Finding time for play

June 15, 2016 Stephanie Wilding, MS, CCLS

School is out for the summer and our calendars are filled with vacations, activities and appointments. Make sure you’ve also set aside time for your kids to choose unstructured activities that let their imaginations soar and help them learn about the world. Free play is central to a child’s learning and growth, especially when they are under 7, and has many hidden benefits.

With our hurried lifestyle, packed schedules and an increasing focus on academic fundamentals at ever younger ages, there has been less and less time for kids to explore and express their feelings through free play.

But free play actually helps children develop what we want most for them: academic and social success, and emotional intelligence.

Free play is activity that’s:

  • Unstructured
  • Freely chosen by the child with no specific rules or goals (for example, winning at a board game)
  • Done alone or in groups

Parents can promote free play by providing play items that are familiar and open-ended:

  • Blocks
  • Cars
  • Costumes
  • Arts and crafts
  • Kitchen sets
  • Medical play kits
  • Play tools
  • Dolls and dollhouses
  • Outdoor items such as balls for physical play

How does all of this fun stuff do more than just create good childhood memories? During free play, children learn how to:

  • Make decisions and solve problems
  • Use their imagination and creativity
  • Discover what they are interested in 


In groups, free play helps kids learn to resolve conflicts, negotiate and advocate for themselves.


Skills such as these build confidence, prepare kids for school and help them learn to work with others. So take time for free play this summer and watch your child grow!

Questions? Talk to your child’s doctor about age-appropriate activities, free play and finding the right balance for learning and fun. You can find a Swedish pediatrician here.

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