children posing for picture at playground

The Benefits of Free Playtime on the Playground

It is not uncommon to pass a park or playground and see children engaging in various types of play, letting their imaginations run wild. Having an outlet like this is crucial for a child’s psychology. Early childhood is an incredibly important part of human development and making sure to foster the right environment for a healthy, well-adjusted child is critical to their success later in life. It is important for children to get an education, learn the importance of responsibility, and create healthy habits, but playtime also has a role in early childhood development. During play, especially free play, children learn a multitude of skills that will benefit them greatly as they grow into adolescents and become the next generation of adults.

What Is Free Play and Why Is It Important?

Of course, you’ve heard the term playtime and are more than likely already familiar with it. As children, most of us engaged in some form of play, whether it was on our own or with siblings or friends. However, with children, there is more than just one type of way to play. More often than not, children are already engaging in free play on their own, without needing to be taught or guided.

Free play is when children have complete freedom to choose how they want to play, such as playing games of make-believe on the playground with their friends or choosing to stay inside and draw their own wacky characters. With this type of play, the only limit is the child’s imagination and, as we all know, a child’s creativity knows no bounds. And the best part is that free play can take place anywhere — it doesn’t matter if it’s at home, at school, or on the playground. Even in places we adults might consider boring or stressful, such as the airport, a child with a well-developed mind due to free play may imagine that they are an astronaut about to embark on an important mission to space.

The reason that free play is so important is that it shows that your children are developing normally. Playing in such a manner allows children to develop skills that they may not have the opportunity to explore elsewhere. Because free play is so creative, it’s a natural way to encourage problem-solving skills and independence. Even in imagined scenarios, problems will arise and children can use this opportunity to find the best solutions, whether they’re playing alone or in a group with others. Children who play independently will learn how to keep themselves entertained, and this learned skill will benefit them in schooling and their life beyond as they start to become their own person.

Why Should Kids Have Free Play?

In today’s modern world, kids are experiencing free play less and less with screen and mobile devices becoming available to them almost twenty-four seven, especially as more apps and programs are coming out that are geared toward keeping children occupied for long periods of time. It is not uncommon to see a young child hooked to a tablet or cellphone watching a children’s show or playing a game. That’s not to say that all children’s shows or games are bad as many often teach valuable lessons that children replicate in life.

However, the amount of time spent on these devices has been rapidly increasing while their time with free play has been decreasing. The main cause for the lack of free play children are being exposed to and replacing it instead with a screen is due to their increasingly busy schedules. As our adult lives become busier, so do the lives of our children. A family with both parents working full-time can be hard-pressed to find the time to take children to the playground or encourage them to free play at home. Sometimes it can be tempting to give our children just as rigorous a schedule with things such as excessive academic studying or extracurricular training because we think it will prepare them for a successful life. If we get too busy and don’t allow for the proper time to care for our children, we may even want to throw a screen in front of our children to keep them busy, which is becoming more and more popular in the household. However, doing so is causing a huge detriment to our children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children under the age of 2 years old experience very little to no screen time, while children ages 2 to 5 should have no more than one hour of screen time a day. This is because these ages are critical in the development of a child’s cognitive functions, as well as the ability to be creative and to bond with other individuals, such as parents or children of the same age group. At this age, and even in younger children, letting them engage in free play or playtime on the playground will be more beneficial to them than the majority of the time they spend in front of a screen.

Free play encourages the proper growth of a child’s brain as they progress through life, which is why it is so important that they are given the opportunity to do so. But free play does more than just help a child’s brain grow. When children play, they are also getting physical, building social relationships, and learning to regulate their emotions. Without learning these important skills, especially the regulation of emotions, we may be putting our children at risk of developing things such as depression, anxiety, and inattentiveness. In young children, free playtime sets up the building blocks for well-adjusted children who become well-adjusted teenagers and finally, well-adjusted adults. Children are naturally inclined to play — all we have to do is give them the opportunity to do so.

How Can You Encourage Free Playtime on the Playground?

Now that we know just how important free playtime is to a child’s development, we must encourage it within our children so they can reap the benefits it has to offer. At a playground, there are multiple ways you can encourage your children to play, which you will first guide them through before letting them take the reins and play on their own.

Encouraging free play first starts with fostering a child’s imagination, which can be done through pretend play. This is where you can let a child be as creative as they want to be, whether they want to be a knight on a quest to slay a dragon or a magical wizard that rules the land. No matter what they come up with, children who engage with pretend play will start to develop their sense of empathy as they are taking the role of a person that is not themselves. Allow there to be drama as well, as pretend play can be a great outlet for storytelling. Children often come up with wild and imaginative ideas that are usually accompanied by plots in the same vein. Developing narratives and storylines within playtime helps build empathy within your child.

Don’t be afraid to let things get messy, either. Most children are messy by nature, and permitting them an outlet for this type of play will allow them to expel this energy at the right time. There are many options when it comes to getting messy during playtime, and a great way to encourage this is with a craft room or table. Setting kids loose in a craft room gives them the chance to get messy with paint, markers, glitter, glue, ribbon, pipe cleaners, and more while creating their own masterpieces.

Arguably, the most popular way to encourage free play is through physical exertion. Any excess energy or emotions built up can be released during physical play and can be a great way for children to regulate their emotions. But beyond that, playtime that includes a high level of physical energy will also help maintain a healthy body for your child, which will put them in a good place as they grow and reach adolescence.

Many playground equipment options encourage high levels of physical exertion, and many are popular choices for numerous kids, which will allow them to join other children on the playground. Once they make friends with other children on the playground, their creativity and imagination will flow to help them create new games and experiences to share with the friends they will make.

Unstructured play allows kids to be creative during playtime without adults or rules guiding their activities. On the playground, unstructured play might look like:

  • Climbing a rock wall: When kids play on equipment like a rock wall, they’re able to challenge themselves. On a rock wall, kids can push themselves to climb to the top, testing their physical ability without being asked to. They might also challenge others to see who can reach the top first. Pushing themselves and others to reach new goals in free-play situations helps kids grow individually and socially.

View rock Climbers

  • Drawing with chalk: Unguided crafts are a great way for kids to make their own decisions and be creative. On the playground, you might provide chalk for the kids to draw with. Some kids prefer quieter activities, and playing with chalk allows them to create drawings, write messages, or draw roads to travel around the playground with. Kids get to freely combine creativity and play with options like this.
  • Inventing games: Kids are naturally imaginative — they just need free time to let it show. When kids have free time, they may be faced with boredom or feel unsure about what to play. This is when they start inventing their own games to play. Being in charge of how they play helps them build confidence and be creative while sharing their games with each other. Whether the floor is lava or they arrange a treasure hunt, it’s their choice, and they’ll enjoy doing it.

These are just a few of the many ways children can play at their local playground. As they explore the world around them during playtime and make friends doing so, they build skills and expand their creative imagination. The best way to encourage free play is by providing them with a safe place to play and resources they can incorporate in their fun, like playground equipment, chalk, jump ropes, balls, and more.

What Are the Benefits of Free Playtime on the Playground?

We know that playtime is important, but what makes it such a vital part of a child’s development? Well, there are many known benefits of free playtime on the playground. Because there are so many, we have compiled some of the better known and best benefits that your child will receive as they take part in regular free play.

  • Benefits for the brain. One of the many benefits that can be observed is the growth of executive functioning skills. Executive function is responsible for our decision-making, and we use it to achieve our goals. Free play also promotes creative thinking, which can be used for problem-solving and critical thinking, which help children overcome any adversities they may experience, whether in their fictional worlds or in real life. This is an important skill for children to learn, especially as they start to head to school and are taking on more responsibility.
  • Emotional growth and outlet. Children tend to be fairly emotional as they are learning how to process new feelings. It is a part of growing up and being human. Playtime allows for the freedom to express these emotions without judgment and in a safe space. This outlet will keep children from expelling their pent-up emotions in negative or harmful ways, such as at parents, siblings, or teachers. Free play teaches them how to handle difficult emotions and find ways to resolve the tougher feelings they may come across in a healthy, manageable way.
  • Building of social skills. Having quality social skills is vital in the growth of any person and starting in early childhood gives your child the best chance at social success. When they play at a playground, they are more than likely going to run into other children and will want to play games with them. As they do so, they will learn how to communicate with others in an efficient way and will learn how to make decisions with one another. They will also learn how to solve any disagreements that sprout up among other children, which can happen over any number of things. These skills developed early will give them the means to solve social issues within their lives in the future.
  • Physical fitness. The more time your child spends outside running around, the more fit they will become. Playgrounds are an optimal choice for encouraging children to maintain their physical fitness because they are having fun at the same time. Playing in this manner will help them build healthy habits which will also contribute to reducing childhood obesity.
  • Discovery of passions. In some cases, free play helps children discover what they are passionate about at a young age. As they play more games and socialize with more children, they may come to realize that there is something they really enjoy. This can manifest in many ways. More obviously, children who love to play sports on the playground, such as basketball or football, will likely develop a passion for athletics. On the other side of things, children who frequently play pretend as doctors or nurses may develop a passion for nurturing other people and may go into corresponding fields as they grow older. Whatever it is that they show interest in, it is important to encourage their interests as it can become a passion for them that they will one day pursue as a career.
  • Prepares children for school. With all of the cognitive, emotional, and social skills that are built during playtime, it is no surprise that children who play at a young age are more ready for school than children who did not get the opportunity. These children already know how to communicate with children of their own age group so finding friends will likely not be an issue. Other things, such as sharing or behaving in class, are less likely to become issues as well, as they have already learned how to problem solve and regulate their emotions. And the best part is that while they are in elementary school, they will likely still be given the time to play, whether it is free play at the playground or guided play with the teacher, which will only continue to hone the skills they have developed.
  • Expands world view. Free play accesses the imagination, which allows children to put themselves in the shoes of all types of people. It is here that they develop a broader worldview as they come to understand what it is like to be different people. This builds their empathy, which will later be used in real-life situations when they encounter people who are different from them and whom they may not understand fully. Free play fosters a sense of empathy, which allows kids to accept people who are different and be more willing to learn about their differences.

These are just a few of the many benefits that free play at a playground has to offer. Play should be allowed and encouraged — make time for your children to play so that they can develop the skills that they will need to succeed. This approach is key in raising children who will become competent and well-adjusted adults.

Encourage Free Playtime With A Little Tikes Commercial Playground

Free play is such an important part of any child’s development and will help them develop skills that will last a lifetime. Some of the best times in our children’s lives are at the playground with their friends, where they can be free to be and express themselves in the best way they know how. Quality playgrounds give way to quality playtime, something that is invaluable to every child.

If you’re looking to build the perfect playground, Little Tikes Commercial can help. Contact us today to get a quote or speak with a representative in your area to learn how to best foster a safe environment for children to play in.