Unstructured play is more than just fun. It provides an unparalleled learning opportunity for kids.
- Physical benefits: Kids who are allowed the freedom to move their bodies in ways that feel right to them develop physical skills at the pace appropriate to their body. This results in fewer injuries and fewer maladaptive positioning issues such as W sitting. Plus – kids simply need more physical play.
- Executive functioning: Executive functioning is basically air traffic control for our bodies. It helps us remember information, filter distractions, switch focus when needed, and sustain focus over time. Imaginary play works on these skills, and given the time, children can extend imaginary play for hours.
- Decision-making: When play is child-led, the kids engage in their own decision-making process about what to do. “What are we going to do in this game? What rules are we going to follow?” – which not only improves their ability to make future decisions but also allows them to learn at their pace as well as choose what interests them. Self-motivated learning is a skill that will serve them for a lifetime.
- Creativity: Kid-inspired games are incredibly imaginative. And when a child experiences boredom, they quickly come up with creative ways to mitigate that feeling.
- Pro-social behaviors: The function of play is to build brains that know how to interact with others in positive ways. Studies have found that the best predictor of academic performance is social skills at a young age. Plus, those countries that have more recess have higher academic performance than countries with less time spent at play.
- Collaboration and negotiation: Have you sat back and observed children in conflict before you intervened? Have you helped them find the words they need to express what they feel to each other? Witnessed their self-advocacy and selflessness? It’s beautiful and powerful and SO. IMPORTANT.
- Group dynamics: Free play allows kids to explore leadership and group roles. It lets them create their own rules. All useful skills.
- Emotional resilience: The skills listed above assist in emotional resilience – and stress-minimal free play provides a balance to the necessary schedules of life.
- Empathy: Some researchers have called empathy “the unifying factor for simulating intellect, engaging in collaborative and creative problem solving and fostering social-emotional balance and stability.“
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