The Importance of Free Play So why is it so important to let kids play?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics' Clinical Report on "The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds," in addition to being important to healthy brain development, the benefits of free play include:
- allowing kids to use their creativity and develop their imagination, dexterity, and other strengths
- encouraging kids to interact with the world around them
- helping kids conquer their fears and build their confidence
- teaching kids to work in groups, so they learn to share and resolve conflicts
- helping kids practice decision-making skills
- that it is fun
It is important to note that this kind of play is meant to be cnstructured, child-driven play.It is not the kind of play time that is totally controlled by adults and doesn't include passive play, such as sitting in front of a video game, computer, or TV.Keep in mind that just because free play isn't controlled by adults doesn't mean that you shouldn't supervise your kids while they are playing, especially if they are playing outside.
Play's the Thing - Study Shows "Free Play" Is Highly Important to Human Social Development Boston college researcher: modern focus on competition, drive to win may have contributed to economic woes A new theory about early human adaptation suggests that our ancestors capitalized on their capacities for play to enable the development of a highly cooperative way of life.
Boston College developmental psychologist Peter Gray suggests that use of play helped early humans to overcome the innate tendencies toward aggression and dominance which would have made a cooperative society impossible. "Play and humor were not just means of adding fun to their lives," according to Gray. "They were means of maintaining the band's existence - means of promoting actively the egalitarian attitude, intense sharing, and relative peacefulness for which hunter-gatherers are justly famous and upon which they depended for survival."
This theory has implications for human development in today's world, said Gray, who explains that social play counteracts tendencies toward greed and arrogance, and promotes concern for the feelings and wellbeing of others. "It may not be too much of a stretch," says Gray, "to suggest that the selfish actions that led to the recent economic collapse are, in part, symptoms of a society that has forgotten how to play." Interest in play is very much on the upswing among psychologists, educators, and the general public, according to Gray. "People are beginning to realize that we have gone too far in the direction of teaching children to compete," he said. "We have been depriving children of the normal, noncompetitive forms of social play that are essential for developing a sense of equality, connectedness, and concern for others."
Gray stressed that the kind of "play" that helped hunter-gatherer children develop into cooperative adults is similar to the sort of play that at one time characterized American children's summers and after-school hours in contemporary culture. This play is freely chosen, age-mixed, and, because it is not adult-organized, non-competitive, he said. This "free play" is distinct from leisure pursuits such as video games, watching TV, or structured extracurricular activities and sports. "Even when children are playing nominally competitive games, such as pickup baseball or card games, there is usually relatively little concern for winning," said Gray. "Striving to do well, as individuals or teams, and helping others do well, is all part of the fun. It is the presence of adult supervisors and observers that pushes play in a competitive direction--and if it gets pushed too far in that direction it is no longer truly play."
The most important skill for social life, Gray said, is how to please other people while still fulfilling one's own needs and desires. In self-organized play, he contends, children learn to get along with diverse others, to compromise, and to anticipate and meet others' needs. "To play well," he said, "and to keep others interested in continuing to play with you, you must be able to see the world from the other players' points of view. "Children and teenagers in hunter-gatherer cultures played in this way more or less constantly," he said, "and they developed into extraordinarily cooperative, egalitarian adults. My observations - published in previous articles - indicate that age-mixed free play in our culture, in those places where it can still be found, has all of these qualities."