Let Children Play Freely!

by Katie Brazerol

There seems to be a push in recent years to make sure children do not sit idle. With so many state standards to cover, many providers feel pressured to make sure they are maximizing every learning opportunity. While we live in an age where knowledge and information are constantly at our fingertips, children may be lacking opportunities to explore, sit and daydream, and play on their own.

A teacher who is being assessed might worry that a child sitting alone in the corner of the room might be construed as neglected. How much of our young children’s time should be spent on teacher-led activities vs. independent play? What should independent play even look like?

When I was a child care provider, I noticed children exhibiting more creativity and playing longer with materials during free play than when I lead a structured activity. Some children would get bored within five minutes during my activities! It became clear that I needed to incorporate periods of time throughout the day when children could be free to explore, role-play, and interact without my involvement.

“Play is the highest form of research.”
– Albert Einstein

“Free play” does not have to mean wasted time. As a provider, you can set up your environment to promote learning opportunities:

  • Offer materials that will help the children strengthen skills from specific learning domains.
  • Create independent activity centers that focus on specific areas of development.
  • Provide brief instructions to explain how children can use the items in the center, and then observe quietly as the children begin to play. Who takes the lead? How could you encourage others to direct the play? Who struggles to play well together? How could you prompt those children to interact in a more positive way?
  • Ask open-ended questions to help engage all the participants in the area.
  • Encourage children to add materials to enhance their play. They might come up with unique uses for items that you have never thought of!
  • Find more information about centers and specific ideas for learning centers across several domains here.

It’s so easy to get caught up in standards and assessments. How do you make sure your children get enough productive free play? Let us know in the comments!

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