16 Reasons Why Free Play Will Help Your Child

Or...Why eliminating recess will achieve the exact opposite effect from what was intended

The debate continues: should we shorten / eliminate recess in order to address educational failure? The last two schools I taught in were failing schools with principals who pushed to eliminate recess in favor of more teaching time in the classroom. The desired outcome was raised scores, of course.

Unfortunately, cutting recess had the exact opposite effect. More time in the classroom did not result in higher test scores, in fact, the outcome was detrimental to the effort to raise test scores.

How free play helps your child

1. Free play stimulates communication between the various regions in the brain. This is accomplished by vigorous physical activity in which arms and legs are pumping, there is spinning, swinging, sliding, hanging upside down, skipping, and running. Having fluent communication between the four lobes of the brain is critical, considering that the various functions needed for learning are located in different regions in the brain.

Free play will actually help children think better, process information better, and thus their learning abilities will improve.

2. Free play is a stress reliever and we all know that the stressed mind is unable to focus on learning. Making tired and stressed children spend more time in their classroom chairs will not improve learning. In fact, staying in their seats longer could actually hinder learning.

3. Free play during recess results in higher oxygen levels in the brain which is critical for learning. The brain uses 1/5 of the oxygen used in the body. Higher levels of attention and processing are linked to better quality oxygen.

4. Free play outdoors provides children with necessary visual stimulation in 3D. Many experts agree that a lack of 3D visual development due to limited outdoor time results in learning difficulties and is frequently linked to dyslexia. There is a whole lot of information on the importance of proper development of the eyes as relates to ability to read in Carla Hannaford’s book Smart Moves.

5. Free play outdoors give children the opportunity for tactile exploration which results in an enriched background knowledge for classroom learning. There is absolutely no comparison between first-hand exposure to real objects as they appear in their environment and seeing images in a book or on a screen. Children gain rich knowledge of texture, scent, color, pattern, heft, and so much more, just by being able to explore nature as they play.

6. Free play gives children the opportunity to exercise their language skills as they interact with their friends. So much of the time in the classroom is spent listening, reading, and writing, and conversation is limited. Even during lunch, many schools limit the child’s freedom to converse in the interest of keeping the noise levels down.

7. Vigorous free play outdoors provides the physical activity to help a child sleep at night which is important for renewal. Restful sleep will help a child focus and learn during the day and will also help him or her to consolidate their learning at night during sleep.

8. Free play will help provide a child with a sense of well-being. Plenty of exercise and sunshine will boost levels of serotonin which is the feel-good chemical in the brain.

Other benefits of free play

When children play freely outside with their friends, they

  9. are free to engage in imaginative play

10. develop and refine their conversation skills

11. learn to give and take

12. learn to wait

13. learn listening skills

14. learn to negotiate

15. learn how to get along in a group

16. their immune system is strengthened

Let's get our children outside as much as is possible! Instead of buying expensive toys or equipment, let them put their imaginations to work using natural materials for their playthings. I promise, giving them ample outdoor play will help them in so many ways!

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  • Gaye Moore, Education/Disabilities Manager--Head Start

    You are so right, Sarah, especially about outside free play. Just provide some “beautiful junk”, as my old ECE professor called it, and watch their imaginations soar. Preach on, lady!

  • Nancy

    Sarah it is true free play contributes to higher performance in class. Keep up!

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