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Free play is vital to your child’s development

by Luqmaan Rawat
Play is essential for a child’s development Photo Pexels

South Africa  – There are several  things which are stressed in childhood more than playing. Yet playing is how young children make sense of the world around them. Over the last decade, research has shown that unstructured free play has been declining despite the acknowledged benefits.

There are two kinds of play, free play and structured play. Structured play is used to refer to a goal oriented activity. Games like tag, sports, board games or anything that requires children to follow a set of rules or directions. Free play is the opposite. It is open-ended, unstructured play that allows children to creatively engage with each other. Running around, make-believe games, art, playing with blocks or just running around aimlessly.


The benefits of free play 

With structured play emphasis is placed on children developing their logic skills. It challenges them to follow structure and keep to the rules. Free play is all about children being given time to hone their creativity, problem solving skills and social skills, explained Asha Mistry the HOD for Foundation Phase at Anjuman Islam Primary School.

“The benefits of free play are numerous. It includes improved problem solving skills, social skills, decision making abilities in imagination as well as reduced boredom and attention problems. We have found that with free play children have an abundance of energy and they are able to express themselves in so many ways.”

Free play is extremely important in early childhood because it helps to support a child’s social, emotional and physical growth, said Mistry. It helps to develop one’s confidence and allows them to make mistakes in a safe space.

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Creating a balance between the two 

Children are wired to engage in both types of play and it is important they do. However, times have changed. It is not always safe to let your children play in the streets and some schools may not value the benefits of free play. Creating that balance between the two is crucial. Having a schedule filled with structured play or overscheduling a child with activities can lead to them having “stress, anxiety and limit their opportunities for development”. Parents need to make sure they have an environment where a child can just be a child, stressed Mistry

“You have to ensure the environment is safe. A safe environment is where there’s no strangers around. You have to have them in an environment that is safe, that is conducive in a way you feel safe as well. It can be in your garden, it can be in a park where they are already under your supervision as well so they can develop these free play activities.”

Free play at a park or at home can be used as a bonding activity. Just because your child is playing on their own doesn’t mean you can’t engage with them. Get sucked into their imaginary world or ask them all about it when they are done. You can even help by asking them questions during it and help them think more creatively about what they are doing.

Both types of play are important for the development of a child. Having time in the day will allow your child to grow in more ways than one. Never feel guilty if your children are ‘just playing’. This is the best activity they can do.


To learn more from Asha Mistry about free play and Anjuman Islam Primary School, listen to the podcast here: 

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