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importance of free play

As modern parents, our children are very rarely bored. We tend to have their days planned out for them and if we need to get something done then we’ll just hand them the iPad for a while, right?

This summer Petits Filous are encouraging us to get our little ones involved in more free play. They believe a little less structure and a lot more play is crucial for helping kids learn more about the world, and themselves. They have collaborated with Amazon to inspire children to use their imagination to turn old cardboard boxes and empty yogurt pots into something new and fun.

What is free play?

You might be wondering what exactly free play is, and it’s pretty simple really. It’s all about imaginative, unstructured play which is vital for children’s development. Free play is arguably the most useful thing a child can do, in terms of their mental, physical and emotional health, not to mention their future happiness and success.

Play England, a charity campaigning for space and freedom for children to play, describes free play as:

‘Children choosing what they want to do, how they want to do it and when to stop and try some-thing else. Free play has no external goals set by adults.’

The free play study conducted by Petits Filous found that despite 8 in 10 UK parents recognising first-hand the positive benefits of free, imaginative play in their children – from inspiring creativity (59%), stirring spatial awareness (17%), improving focus (25%), cultivating cognitive ability (36%) and even supporting what experts term ‘mental gymnastics’ (10%) – our little ones’ free play quota is at risk.

Nearly half of UK parents feel the pressure to schedule plenty of activities for their children, so it’s no surprise that both children and parents are too busy to find time for free play. Especially at this time of year when children have finished school for the summer, many parents have already planned out every single day with lots of activities to avoid boredom.

My eldest, Max is actually really good with free play, his imagination is pretty impressive. He is never happier that when he’s turning his bedroom into a classroom and pretending to be the teacher. Evie, however definitely needs a little encouragement to use her imagination. She will often moan that she hasn’t got anything to do and I am guilty of just putting the TV on for her or handing her the iPad.

My children love Petits Filous, especially Evie. They have been one of her favourites ever since she was a baby. So that we could get involved in a little free play, we had to start by emptying a few yogurt pots, which Evie was more than happy to help with…

I left her to play with the yogurt pots for a while and she had fun building towers and even a rocket…

When I told her we had cardboard boxes too, she knew immediately that she wanted to make a robot! So I left her to it (with a little supervision with the scissors of course!)…

I have to say I’m pretty impressed with the robot that she created! And she was really chuffed with it herself. She spent ages playing robots and talking in a robot voice afterwards.

The Future of Imagination Report

Petits Filous, together with futurologist Mark Stevenson and children’s charity, The Institute of Imagination, have created a report about the benefits of free play, titled The Future of Imagination. The report talks about the benefits and barriers of free play and what it means for our future generations.

There are many barriers to free play such as school, technology, time, safety etc. It’s clear that our whole mindset needs to change. It really is OK for our children to be bored, in fact it’s essential to their development.

The benefits of free play
  • It’s free!
  • Explore new materials, and work out how to use them
  • Solve problems without help
  • Improve flexible thinking
  • Stay physically fit and strong
  • Develop emotional balance and combat anxiety
  • Learn social skills, including negotiation
  • Boost confidence and discover their own special talents
  • Take reasonable risks and challenge their fears safe

Futurist, Mark Stevenson, commented:This is about reclaiming one of the bedrocks of creativity and innovation – free play. From our neurological development through to our ability to handle complexity and change, play is a foundation that, if taken away, severely limits our abilities and potential. We need a generation of radical innovators and we won’t get them if we curtail their creativity from childhood. Reclaiming play, therefore, is one of the most crucial steps we can take in re-imagining ourselves for the future!’

Will you be encouraging more free play this summer? I know we certainly will be.

Thank you for reading.

*This is a collaborative post*