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How to encourage your child’s “free” play as a parent

And why this is vital for your child
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Every child plays, but what is "free" play exactly?
To put it simply, “free” play is play led by your child and not directed by you, the parent. As the emphasis on educational play and the lack of space in neighborhoods is increasing and free time is being scheduled more and more - there seems to be little space for “free” play. 

"play is practice for life"

Austin Nikolich
Early Childhood Curriculum Coordinator

“It is imaginative, self-chosen and self-directed. When children play they are engaging their whole body and whole brain. Navigating a risk, like walking across a fallen log, or climbing over the back of the couch in order to build a fort, means a child is balancing, anticipating future steps, and critically thinking of ways to avoid a hazardous situation, but still challenging themselves.”

Knowing that encouraging play without restrictions has a lot of benefits, we gathered some examples of free play with the help of Austin, so you can easily help your child play “free” more often:

free play for babies

1. Let your baby look around their world on their tummy and back
Play for a baby is laying on the floor, without the bright lights of a mobile hanging directly above them. Babies need space to roll, lift their tiny hands and feet, and look around their world from tummy and back. 


2. Create a short of obstacle course
Seeing and exploring the world from the floor supports the development of not only their little bodies, but their vision as well.  As babies and young children lift their heads and reach for and manipulate objects, they develop their spatial awareness and hone their motor skills and practice motor planning. Make a sort of obstacle course, with exciting objects on the floor at the four corners of a play space where they can roll or reach. 

credit: @mein.lieblings.leben

3. Let them make sounds
For example, while you’re cooking dinner, give your baby wooden spoons for mixing and let them stir a loose parts mixture (wooden blocks make a great sound when being stirred around). 

photo credit: @familie.wolkenzauber

free play for toddlers

1. Let them play with boring toys
Children don’t need fancy equipment or expensive toys. Truthfully, the more boring adults think it is, the better it is for our children. Encourage creative play. 

2. Loose parts are a child's best friend
Non-prescriptive items allow for endless imagination. Sticks, rocks, shells, boxes, blankets, tree stumps, pots and pans (and spoons for tapping) can be anything and everything.
3. Children love mystery boxes
Save the tissue boxes or baby wipe containers and put fabric scraps inside to make a “Mystery Box”. Young children love taking things out...this makes putting them back in more fun.  

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The Singing Ant

Play mats designed for magical childhood moments and stunning spaces
This blog was created with Austin  Nikolich, Early Childhood Curriculum Coordinator, Community College instructor and mom of two sons.