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30 Reasons Why Free Play Benefits Child Development

30 Reasons Why Free Play Benefits Child Development - - Infographic

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A 2014 study discovered that 6-year-old students who engaged in plenty of free play showed stronger levels of executive functioning, or the ability to manage oneself and achieve goals.

Countless studies have concluded that children who engage in plenty of free play develop crucial skills that they will need for happy, healthy, and productive lives. They learn how to make decisions, regulate emotions, recognize danger, and take calculated risks. Research shows that when adults allow children to take the lead, their playtime becomes more creative, elaborate, and sustained on the playground.

One study showed that free play stimulates the fight-or-flight response without triggering the stress hormone cortisol, giving children opportunities to practice handling danger.

When children have control over the course of their play, it promotes a natural desire to learn, sparks willpower, and develops confidence in their own abilities. Not only does this make for a more fulfilling childhood, but it creates adults who can look after themselves, pursue goals, and enjoy hobbies.

Studies show that a decline in free play correlates with a decline in empathy. Recess and play give children opportunities to develop key social skills and recognize the humanity in others.

The world could use more empathy. Empathetic children who acknowledge and embrace the emotions of others can help create a more peaceful, inclusive future. Additionally, a meta-analysis of play studies concluded that pretend play correlates strongly with divergent thinking, a key component to creativity. Overall, free play makes for happy, healthy, and more successful children who will help shape a brighter future.

Here are 30 Reasons Why Free and Self-Guided Play Benefits Child Development:

  1. “Free play gives children an outlet to express their emotions and feelings and helps them develop a sense of who they are.” — KaBOOM 

  2. Active play is critical for a child’s physical development. It develops coordination, gross motor skills, and fine motor skills.

  3. Play builds the foundation for a lifetime of learning. Free play makes learning fun, natural, and self-driven.

  4. “We must give childhood back to children. Children must be allowed to follow their inborn drives to play and explore so that they can grow into intellectually, socially, emotionally, and physically strong and resilient adults.” — Dr. Peter Gray

  5. Free play changes the neurons in the prefrontal cortex during childhood, prepping the brain to regulate emotions, make plans, and solve problems.

  6. “Play stimulates the parts of the brain involved in both careful, logical reasoning and carefree, unbound exploration.” — Greg McKeow

  7. “Play contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form and is itself a major source of development.” — Lev Vygotsky

  8. A 2014 study found that 6-year-old students who engaged in free play developed stronger levels of executive functioning, or the ability to manage oneself to achieve goals.

  9. “Kids are built to move, and having more time for unstructured, outdoor play is essentially like a reset button.” — Debbie Rhea, Ed.D.

  10. Head Start found that there was a 42% reduction in child obesity risk and an overall reduction in BMI in school programs with plenty of outdoor play.

  11. “The more risks you allow your child to take, the better they learn to take care of themselves.” — Roald Dahl

  12. Research shows that the quality of adult interactions in play scenarios is more important than quantity. When adults let children take the lead, play becomes more elaborate, creative, and sustained.

  13. One study showed that play stimulates the fight-or-flight response without triggering cortisol (the stress hormone), so children can practice handling danger.

  14. Plenty of research shows that time spent in nature helps reduce ADHD symptoms in children as part of their overall treatment plan.

  15. “Having control over the course of one’s own learning, as in free play, promotes desire, motivation, and mastery.” — Dr. Rachel E. White

  16. Play is widespread among animals. Scientists believe that it is crucial for developing survival skills. The larger an animal’s brain is compared to their body size, the more they play.

  17. “Children learn through doing — play is how they explore the world, learn to assess risk, try things out, and get to know themselves.” — Bethe Almeras

  18. Psychologist Edward Fisher concluded from 46 published studies that pretend play “results in improved performances in both cognitive-linguistic and social affective domains.”

  19. “Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” — Diane Ackerman

  20. “The longer children can enjoy play without the kind of monitoring that leads to self-criticism and self-doubt, the better.” — Dr. Craigan Usher

  21. Finland is renowned for academic success. Children enjoy around an hour of recess daily, with unstructured breaks between each class period.

  22. “If parents are obsessed with always knowing where their children are and controlling all their movements … this is no way to educate, strengthen, and prepare their children to face challenges.” — Pope Francis

  23. “A moving child is a learning child.” — Gill Connell and Cheryl McCarthy

  24. “You don’t remember the times your dad held your handle bars. You remember the day he let go.” — Lenore Skenazy

  25. “We should be simply providing fields of free action for them to become, through playing, the resilient, adaptive, creative, emotionally intelligent, and socially confident young people that we all, in truth, want them to be.” — Adrian Voce, OBE

  26. Studies show that a decline in free play correlates with a decline in empathy. Recess and play help kids develop key social skills and connect with the humanity in others.

  27. A 1992 meta-analysis of play studies found that pretend play correlates strongly with divergent thinking, a key component for creativity.

  28. “Think of playtime like an innovation lab where tomorrow’s civilization is being actively designed.” — Jordan Shapiro

  29. Recent research shows that laughter is a powerful way to boost mood and psychological well-being. It stimulates many organs with oxygen and reduces stress hormone levels. 

  30. “Play builds the kind of free-and-easy, try-it-out, do-it-yourself character that our future needs.” — James L. Hymes Jr.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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