Free Play: Why and how you need to encourage it in your home

Children were born to play. Give them an empty box and watch the magic happen, their imagination can turn the most simple of objects into all manner of wondrous things. This is the essence of free play. Play that begins with the child, with their imagination.


What is free play and what does it look like?


Free play is an opportunity for your child to explore their own ideas and feelings in a safe space. This may be acted out in role play or using smaller characters and toys. Listen carefully and you may hear the opposing views of each character and an exploration of how their dilemma can be resolved. Decisions being made about what could and should happen. The same scenario often being repeated over and over, with the same or different outcomes.


Free play is a way your child can test their theories without worrying about an outcome. An opportunity to explore new materials and their properties. It starts with questions, What if I…? What happens when…? How does this work?

There are many who have studied play and gone on to advocate the benefits of play for play’s sake. Stuart Brown a psychologist and founder of The National Institute for Play states “The ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person”. Vince Gowman, an author and the founder of Remember to Play Events believes that play “prepares children of today to be the innovative thought leaders of tomorrow” and Joan Santer and Carol Griffiths who completed a literature review on Free Play in Early Childhood say “Free play gives children an outlet to express their emotions and feelings and helps them to develop a sense of who they are”.

Mom Loves Best have created The Ultimate Guide to Playtime for Kids. With tips and ideas for every type of free play and why it’s important, you’ll be ready for countless hours of entertainment (as long as you have the energy for it!)


What’s my role as an adult in free play?


During free play you (as the adult) may be invited into the scenario, you have two options when this happens. You can be a passive player in their game, letting them lead you completely. You might ask questions which encourage them to explain their thinking, helping them to vocalise and develop their language skills.


The second option is to seize the opportunity to extend their thinking. This is trickier, but if you know your child well you’ll know their comfort zones and sense when this is most appropriate. You can introduce a different opinion, a new outcome or pose a question which will encourage them to explore further.

Both options have value and will add to your child’s play, as well as strengthening your relationship and helping to create happy memories. However be careful not to take over and stop the flow of play altogether, this is a fine line which can be hard not to cross as an adult but have confidence to let your kids take the reigns.


What do you need to encourage free play?


Three things; space, resources and time. These are things you can control and use to nurture and encourage your child’s free play. A safe space, both indoors and outdoors is essential. It should include comfortable places to play on the floor and surfaces to stand and sit at.



The resources you provide your child includes their toys and may be extended with other household items, open ended materials, collections of similar objects to explore, seasonal or themed objects, books and things specific to their current interests.


How you arrange your child’s play space can have a huge impact. Ensure they can access a range of toys at any one time, with open ended toys such as bricks always available. Keep toys in the same spot so they know where to collect them when they’re needed. Rotate more specific toys, this gives them new life and means your child won’t be overwhelmed. Simple adjustments like storing groups of toys in baskets will encourage them to move items to where they want to use them.

Finally time, give them the time to explore and play. Both supervised and where they think they can’t be seen or heard. Free play is already be happening in your home, your job is to make sure your child is getting the most out of it!

If your inspired to follow the free play method then we have the perfect ebook for you. Download the Humanoid 3000 ebook to explore more free play tips and activities