Ten Ways to Make Space for Free Play

kids playing outside in the snow

We’ve written plenty of posts about the importance of imaginative play for children’s brain development. Far from being a waste of time, kids need free play to thrive.

Summer is here and the outdoors is begging kids to get outside and play, play, play!

Here are some tips for encouraging free play:

  • Get down on the floor with your kids. Observe your child and take his lead.
  • Instead of “showing her how to do it,” let your child control the direction and content. For example, if your child wants to create a new game with a ball, resist the urge to “teach” her how to play catch correctly. See where the game goes instead (for those of you who are Calvin and Hobbes fans, refer to “Calvinball” to see where this might lead!)
  • Part of letting your child take the lead is participating when invited! Don’t be afraid to mimic their gestures and voices as you participate.
  • Enjoy all kinds of play – inside, outside, with other kids, alone. Make sure there is time for “free play” amidst scheduled activities.
  • Don’t overprotect your kids from rough-and-tumble play between siblings and peers as long as basic safety precautions are followed,
  • Ask your child questions about what they are doing and creating. Give them positive feedback like “Wow, you are creating a castle! You must have worked really hard on this.”
  • Encourage the use of every day objects like blankets, chairs, pots, rocks, or sticks. Before you know it these might become forts, caves, magic cars, or an arcade!
  • Help your child problem solve if they get frustrated or stuck but try not to rescue them. Ask her, how do you want to solve this? What do you want to try next?
  • Turn off the TV. It can be hard to kids to focus on play when they are distracted by a flickering screen. Turning off the TV can unleash your child’s imagination!
  • Don’t always respond to the statement “I’m bored!” by immediately orchestrating an activity for your child. Sometimes boredom can help generate new forms of imaginative play.