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Free play: the benefits of it and ideas for parents

FairKind Child

Free, uninterrupted play time for children

It’s essential for healthy development. It develops imagination, coordination, balance skills, numeracy and literacy skills. Building free play into each day, where possible, is a wonderful rhythm to establish. Meaghan, at Whole Family Rhythms, offers a free five day email ‘challenge’ which offers you the opportunity to create your own day to day rhythm including free play.

Open ended toys, ones that can shapeshift in a child’s imagination, are very helpful for enabling free play. This may look like children finding sticks and pinecones when outside or using pots, pans and wooden spoons on the kitchen floor. Toys can be simple, they do not need to be ‘all singing and all dancing’! Simple toys made from wood and metal are most durable and environmentally friendly, and will last years.

The philosophy of RIE (pronounced ‘rye’) parenting (Resources for Infant Educarers), developed from of the work of paediatrician Emmi Pikler, encourages children to explore and play without interruption and constant guidance from adults. Adults nearby is reassuring and supportive for children, but they do not need our frequent input. This way they can develop and learn at their own pace and learn the joy of independence with the security of a safe and caring adult nearby. In this post, Janet Lansbury, an early years specialist, writes about the basic principles of RIE parenting. The key aspects include a deep respect for our children, allowing them the freedom of bodily autonomy and observation of our children.

It is often said by children’s psychologists that play is the work of children. They use play each and everyday to learn about and understand the world. They learn by imitation, watching adults in their daily work and living this out in their play. When children play, often we see scenes from what they have heard, seen or experienced being played out. This is therapeutic for children and allows them the medium through which to make sense of life. Never think that when a child is lost in their own world playing that it is ‘wasted time’! They are deep in learning.

A few ideas for allowing and encouraging uninterrupted play:

  • Baby: Lying them on the floor, on a blanket, with a few simple toys or household objects (eg a light wicker basket, a colourful graspable fabric toy, kitchen whisk) within reach. Sit with them and observe, but avoid the temptation to hand them toys and show them various objects. Allow them to explore. Talk to them about what they are doing, recognising their wonderful strength and development.
  • Toddler: Go for a walk in the woods, spend time exploring and looking amongst the leaves and in the trees. They will likely find some wonderful play things that nature has provided and may end up fighting dragons and meeting unicorns. No need to question them on what they are learning or doing, allow them to be in their dreamlike world.
  • Young child: Give them some hankies to ‘polish’ pans, their toys or anything they wish. Cloths are a very versatile toy – they can be used to drape over furniture to create a house, made in blankets to tuck dolls into bed and wrapped around themselves in dress up.

Many of the toys we stock at FairKind Child are open ended and can be used in many different play scenarios. Some examples include:

A final note to say: Enjoy walking alongside your child as they discover and play in the world. Childhood is short and there is time ahead for academic learning. Allow your child to lead in their early years, with you there to provide the safety, stability and boundaries.


Written by Eva Wrenwood, who is currently studying Holistic Baby and Child Care (drawing on Steiner Waldorf and Pikler theories of care and education) at Rudolf Steiner House and previously worked as a midwife. Eva works part time at FairKind Child and hopes to begin facilitating holistic parent and baby/toddler groups in 2019.