The Importance of Free Play for Young Children

In today's article, we want to tell you about the importance of free play for children. What is free play? And what are the benefits?
The Importance of Free Play for Young Children
María José Roldán

Written and verified by the psychopedagogue María José Roldán.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

Adults are used to following rules and instructions when they do things. So much so, in fact, that sometimes we don’t know how to function otherwise. On occasion, we should tap into our inner child because it would make us enjoy life and the things around us so much more. With that in mind, we want to talk about the importance of free play for young children. Keep reading to find out more.

All parents need to know why free play is important for young children. That way, they’ll be able to keep it very much in mind and promote it in the day-to-day lives of their children.

Children get involved and interact with the world around them through play. Thus, free play during early childhood is about exploring, experimenting, discovering and learning.

What is free play?

We can divide play activities into two broad categories: Adult-led play and child-directed play. Both are important for child development. On the one hand, you can’t let a child play 24 hours a day and grow up alone. However, on the other hand, you also shouldn’t fill their days with activities that take up all of their free time.

The Importance of Free Play for Young Children

Also, screen time shouldn’t replace free play. This will only result in developmental problems and learning difficulties at school. Here are some examples of adult-led play activities:

  • Painting with sponges or brushes.
  • Making clay.
  • Playing an obstacle course.
  • Taking art classes.
  • Playing board games.
  • Cooking as a family.

At the same time, free play is any kind of game initiated by a child. We can consider both outdoor and indoor play as free play, as long as children have the freedom to control their playing experience. Some examples of free play are the following:

The importance of free play

Of course, free play has many benefits for the little ones. Below, we’re going to highlight the three most important benefits for their development, especially because they help them evolve by leaps and bounds.

Brain development

Free play is important for a child’s overall brain development. As young children explore and learn, they form new connections and pathways in the brain.

Children’s brains process at twice the speed of adult brains; this is a significant amount of brain development. What’s more, the stimulation that children receive early on will determine how many neurons form.


Playing is a creative activity. As children play, they’re constantly thinking of new games and activities to entertain themselves. During fantasy play, for example, they create stories and events and act them out as if they were happening.

During artistic activities, children develop their creativity. Likewise, when playing with construction toys, the design of a building also emphasizes creativity. All forms of play develop creative expression.

The Importance of Free Play for Young Children

Social skills

Children’s first means of social learning is through interaction with their parents. After that, they build social interaction by playing with siblings or friends. During free play, children learn many social skills such as the following:

  • Cooperation with others.
  • Playing toward common goals.
  • Negotiation.
  • Learning to follow rules.
  • Considering the perspectives of others: Empathy.
  • Resolving conflicts fairly and independently: Assertiveness.
  • Self-affirmation.
  • Following the example of others.
  • Improved sympathy for others.
  • Having socially acceptable behavior.
  • Improved communication with others.

As you can see, it’s important that you encourage free play in your children’s lives. Guided play is fine, but free play will help them develop in other ways. So, balance play time with both aspects because they’re equally important.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Gruss, D,. Rosemberg, F,. (2017) Los niños y el juego. La actividad lúdica de 0 a 5 años. Editorial: Ediciones continente.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.