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What Is Free Play In Early Childhood Education?

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Playing is the most important work of a child in early childhood. They learn many things from both free playing and guided playing. So, it can be cited as a basic part of early childhood education.

As a result, more parents are considering about; what is free play in early childhood education. Therefore, this article is all about free playtime and it’s importance for early childhood development. 

So, What is free play in early childhood education? Free play can be explained as the time full of less organized, children-led playing activities. This motivates kids to come up with ideas, scenarios, organize and create required materials, and play with the other or alone by finding solutions to the problems that may arise during the playing activity. Free play time can improve many skills and abilities like fine motor skills, thinking skills, social skills, physical activeness, organizing skills, problem-solving skills, etc. 

Therefore, in this article, I will discuss all the related information you should know about free playtime in early childhood education.

Necessarily, I will provide you with valuable details on; free playtime, the difference between free play and guided play, why free play is important in early childhood, tips for teachers and finally, you will be able to know about the methods to motivate free play. 

This will be a comprehensive post that covers all the relevant information. Therefore, I have listed the topics I discuss below. Please, feel free to jump straight to the section you want by clicking on the topic.

Let’s get started!

Free playtime

Before getting into the question, what is free play in early childhood education; it is important to understand the general meaning of the concept.

The voluntary, unstructured, child-initiated activities that allow children to develop their imagination by experiencing and exploring the world around them are known as “free play”.

It is coming naturally from the love of discovery, enthusiasm, and natural curiosity of children. That means spontaneous play. 

Playing with blocks, moulding clay, dolls, and all other safe and clean toys, materials are allowed for unstructured creative play. Children like free playing a lot in their childhood and it is very beneficial for children.

It encourages children for all kinds of physical activities such as running, playing, climbing, building, drawing, singing, and dancing. 

Further, there are various free play types such as; dramatic, fantasy, role play, creative, social, rough and tumble, exploratory and symbolic. All of them are related to social, cognitive, creative, physical, and emotional development through free play.

It also encourages children to develop their imagination by using creativity. Although nowadays most children are addicted to various video games, those are passive activities that do not sharpen their creativity. 

Have you seen that children love role-playing in childhood? They are important activities for them to expand their understanding of the world and to prepare for adulthood.

They get confidence and learn to solve their problems by developing other social skills like listening, sharing, compromising, give and take, etc. 

As childhood lays the foundation of the future career of a child, free playing is the best method to convey all the necessary skills for them. If someone may ask; what is free play in early childhood education, we can say that it is the basis of their education as childhood is the best period to practice free playing.

They are so curious about everything around them, so they can quickly catch things through free playing. 

But some societal changes affect the routine of childhood and reduce the opportunity to free play such as; 

  • Families being small and parents being busy with work and they have little time to care for their children.
  • The pressure of parents to fill the schedules of children with academic activities.
  • The number of free play activities decreases due to the depressive entertainment of computer video games, television, etc.
  • It is unsafe to play outside without the protection of the parents of the children.

Due to these reasons, free play will be decreased or even missed by some children. But as parents, you have to take the responsibility to provide your child with free play opportunities as it is the basis of childhood education.

Difference between free play and guided play   

The difference between guided and free play also helps us to find the answer to the question, what is free play in early childhood education.  The guided play is adult-led, providing a specific task and a direction for children to learn new skills.

Free play is a cognitive or physical activity organized and led by the children themselves. It isn’t as highly organized or formal as guided play. That is the major difference between these two types of play. The other differences can be pointed out as follows. 

1. The goal of the activity

Guided play is enabling children to achieve one or more learning goals within a play context where the adults are initiating the experiences but adults and children are sharing control of how to do and what to do.

But free play is unique. The child can follow their interests and build an environment that is suitable for their experiences.

2. Directions and materials 

Adults are establishing a context for children’s play and goals attained to the needs and interests of the children. They choose what to do and how to do and the adults are presenting and interacting with children but can’t direct their actions.

On the other hand, in free play, adults are ensuring that the children have the time, materials, and space for immersive, safe, and inclusive play experiences, and they are supported by listening, following their interests, and acknowledging.

3. Learning Outcomes

Guided playing leads to numeracy, literacy, some elements of emotional regulation, social skills, and also it deepens the learning of children through suggestions and questions.

And free play has been linked to higher emotional regulation, health and wellbeing, self-esteem, and even executive functioning, mathematics, and spatial skills.

Why is free play important in early childhood?

Free play can be cited as the most constructive activity that kids can do. Therefore it has been a prominent part of hood education. So, it is not a secret that free play is very important in early childhood.

Let’s pay attention to what is free play in early childhood education? And why is it important in early childhood? 

1. Helps to build life skills

When children are playing freely, they create imaginary scenarios where they are pretending to be a particular person or a professional like a firefighter or a policeman.

This will make them remember and understand complex rules and also apply them as they are going along with the scenarios and regulating each other’s behaviors. These types of activities are helping kids to build executive skills that are benefitted to them in their professional careers.

Further, according to scientific studies, kids who are regularly playing outdoor activities are less likely to have nearsightedness because they are allowed to have a better distance vision due to the sunshine and natural light. 

2. Developing social skills

Children are learning many skills through free playing and among them there are many social skills. Kids are learning to work as a team by playing cooperatively with other kids. They are also able to coordinate with them and make strategies.

They can make friends who are contributing to learning how to care about people and to socialize. Further, they are developing problem-solving skills by playing with other kids.

3. Increasing intellectuality 

Children can enhance their intellectuality by engaging in games that are requiring them to be creative and it is the best part of playing freely and having fun without any tension of the world.

By engaging in fun games like LEGO kids improve their creativity and accordingly increase their intellectual levels.

Further, the games that kids need to have physical activities are allowing them to become good decision-makers since they need to decide where to go, where to hide like in the game of hiding and seek. 

4. Creating independent individuals

Free playing teaches children how to entertain themselves. It helps them learn to think independently. It also develops the decision-making skills of children.

At the same time, it is providing opportunities for them to discover their interests and the good things for them. 

5. Children become more active

The outdoor activities like hoping, building a cubby house and playing with balls, etc help them to move around and become physically active. It will help to create healthier children and healthier adults for the future.

Likewise, various factors make free play an important activity like the improvement in cognitive thinking by making kids use their creativity that leads them to develop their imagination.

Not only that, it encourages them to interact with the environment by developing their curiosity which leads to a desire to learn about various things in the environment. Further, it allows kids to face challenging emotions like fear (fear of socializing, etc).

Tips for teachers to organize free play times at preschool

Among all the other education methods, free play time has also been identified as an important method of learning. Therefore, nursery teachers must understand, “what is free play time in early childhood education” and try to include free play times in the daily schedule.

Below I have mentioned a few times for the teachers in this regard. 

  • Order required materials

Once you are doing the annual orders to your classroom, do not forget to order toys and materials for free playtimes.

Necessarily, you may order a few Lego sets, building blocks sets, toy animals, toy kitchen items, dolls, clay, wooden blocks, wooden shapes, vehicles, toy food items, etc.

  • Allocate specific time

When your class is full of materials, your students may be more likely to pay attention to free play all the time. Since you have a curriculum to cover, you must definitely overcome this issue without hurting the kids’ feelings.

You can allocate time for free play in your daily schedule and every morning specifically mention this time to the kids and encourage them to wait until the time comes to free play.

More or less you may allocate 1 or 2.5 hours maximum for free play and you can be divided this time into 2-time slots as one for the morning and one for the evening. 

  • Do not disturb

When the kids are having free play time do not disturb them or do not try to guide them. As the teacher, you may make sure they are safe while playing and observe their behaviors.

This will help you to identify their skills and weaknesses and it will also help you to come up with ideas for your future lessons.  

  • Add value

As the teacher, you can easily add value to the free play time of your classroom by helping them provide the concepts or ideas. For instance, you can suggest the kids organize and play at a farmers’ market, hospital, dollhouse, zoo, restaurant, family picnic, etc.

Further, by asking them to create and use play money, goods lists, and menus in the free play time you can make them learn some math and English too.   

If you are a teacher, I hope you have understood enough about what is free playtime in early childhood education and are motivated to add free play time to your class timetable.

How to motivate free play?

As parents and teachers, it is important to know; what is free play in early childhood education because it can bring better outcomes for your child.

So, the next question that comes to your mind would be “how to motivate your child in free playing to give much better outcomes”. Below I have provided the answer to that question. 

1. Praise your kid’s play

Your child may be engaging in some amount of free play every day. There you have to encourage them by telling him “what a great job”,  I’m so impressed by your creativity of that building by yourself.”

Or tell him “What a nice game you have invented”. Also, you may resist the urge to give suggestions and convey to him that his playing is perfect just the way he does.   

2. Offer open-ended toys

Do you know that the highest creativity is created by the simplest toys? Play tools such as; blocks, balls, and dolls can be used in many ways to encourage the imagination better than things like board games, coloring books where there are specified rules to follow.

Therefore, don’t forget to fill your child’s or student’s toy box with Lego blocks, clay, kitchen sets, animals, papers, and etc. 

3. Limit the screen time

You have to put limits on your child to use the television and computers. Then, they will not start to rely on a screen when they get bored. On the other hand, playing is not as instantly immersive.

Sometimes it takes work. But it is more rewarding. So, you may not allow your child more than one or two hours of screen time for a day.

4. Cutting back on extracurricular

You may think that allowing your child to join baseball, French classes, art classes, etc. all the time is a favor to your child.  Do you think that those activities are going to increase the extracurricular qualities of your child?

But in reality, they will zap their energy for any free play and make them way too busy. Not only that, the kids may undergo mental problems like anxiety and depression when their time is over-organized.

5. Let your child get bored

The kids need time to get bored. Then they need to overcome that boredom. So, free playing will be their alternative.

Therefore, the next time when your child complains to you that there’s nothing to do, you can offer him suggestions on how he might entertain himself. There, you may give him an idea of free playing.

6. Teaching by example

Are you free to play by yourself? If not, how do you expect your child to do so? You may not feel guilty about the time you are taking for engaging in activities like; painting, reading, gardening or going for a walk, etc.

There you teach your child a good lesson that playing and entertaining yourself is prominent and that your age doesn’t matter in it.

Likewise, you can motivate your child in free playing by making them active, creative, and well disciplined. So, it is clear that what is free play in early childhood education is not a question yet because it will offer more to your child.

Conclusion – What is free to play in early childhood education?

We have discussed many topics that come under free plat time in early childhood education in more detail. I think the article will effectively work out for all the parents and teachers to have a clear idea about free playing and its importance for children. 

Free playing is not just a list of activities but a list of qualities. As we discussed above, your child can earn many things such as teamwork qualities, entertainment, creativity, etc through free playing. As a parent or a teacher, you may first understand the difference between free playing and guided playing and then by using given tips you may motivate kids in free playing.

Thank you for reading! I hope you find this article valuable. Stay tuned with Edu Nursery for more valuable content.

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