For most people, it’s not an activity organised by adults, or playing on a bit of park equipment, but something that happened when parents weren’t around, and very often something outside: games of Hide and Seek and Cops and Robbers; making up adventures; or even just mucking about in a gang, interacting with each other and the world immediately around.
The opportunities for this kind of free, unstructured, imaginative play outside with others are greatly reduced these days, due to increases in traffic, indoor entertainment, parental concerns, changing work patterns and children’s involvement in organised clubs and activities.
Yet it’s now recognised that this kind of play is so important to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children, and to their ability to grow into resilient, happy, well adjusted adults.
Free play enables children to:
There’s lots to read on-line about the researched benefits of free play. Have a look at this paper on The Importance of Play in the American Academy of Paediatrics, and Give Childhood back to Children, an interesting Independent newspaper article by Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College. See also our Research and Articles page.
In our society where children have far fewer chances to play freely like this outdoors, playing out sessions can be a good way of beginning to break the cycle and make it a normal activity again. They provide space and permission for children to play freely together, making good use of public space right outside their homes. Adults may be present, but they simply step back. What children then do in the space is up to them…