- Free and purposeful play promote skills and well being
- Free play and purposeful play are important in childhood development for different reasons
- Parents should aim for a healthy balance of both
- The routine and environment facilitated for kids plays a big role in achieving the balance
Free and purposeful play are equally important in the development of children and neither should be prioritized over the other. Rather, time should be made for both as part of an appreciation of the many facets of childhood development.
Free and purposeful play
Free play is play without structure where kids are able to engage and explore whatever is taking their interest. Purposeful play, however is when play is subtly facilitated by you to achieve an outcome. If you haven’t already done so, it is advised that at some stage you read Free Play and Purposeful Play for a full overview.
Both are important
Both free play and purposeful play are a vital part of kids developing into happy, healthy and active individuals. Play is seen to be such an important part of childhood development because it provides the variety of experiences that give kids the opportunity to acquire flexible and adaptive behaviour in response to their ever changing environments. In free play, kids follow their interests, investigate, explore, have time to contemplate and learn how to occupy their time.
In purposeful play, kids are able to do these things also, but there is some structure. Purposeful play will consist more of activities and games that may have some rules or goals outlined such as a game of touch football. Purposeful play allows for more of an opportunity to develop specific skills such as throwing, language or musical skills.
It should also be acknowledged that free and purposeful play are interconnected and this is why a balance of both is best for the developing child. Take for example kicking skills. On one day you may go to the park and play specific games that are designed to help kicking skills improve and the next day at school your child and group of friends are playing and kicking the football around. Both will be improving kicking skills. Your child will be more likely to engage in kicking in free play if they feel competent and will also want to do kicking activities in the park if they are having fun experiences in play with friends that involve kicking. The key point is that free and purposeful play both serve a role in skill development.
Childhood experts are in agreement that children should have the opportunity to experience a healthy balance of free and purposeful play for skill development and general well being. Kids learn by themselves, but they also learn a lot from adults. In purposeful play activities it is an opportunity for adults to provide helpful little instructions such us how to hold a cricket bat. Kids then further explore these skills when playing freely. The development of the basics of any skills mean that these skills will develop further in both free and purposeful play.
What can you do?
Parents should consider the routine they are putting in place for their children. It is becoming more apparent that there is a tendency to over structure kids' lives and free play is being sacrificed for an intensely competitive journey where parents are almost racing each other. In this case, young kids have no free time to develop their own interests or even just relax. There is a growing voice that this may be somewhat responsible for a rise in anxiety issues in children.
On the flip side, kids do need structure. It is very beneficial for them to develop specific skills, learn how to improve, develop attention capacities and discipline. This is where purposeful play with you or structured lessons with a coach or teacher have great benefit. Considering the statistics on physical activity levels of kids in the western world compared to the advised levels, most kids would benefit from more free and purposeful play.
One of the most important things any parent can do is to facilitate enriched environments. The environment is crucial to what play is taking place. New places and objects promote free play and exploration and the environment and equipment is integral to what purposeful play activities and games can be enjoyed. Having playtime with no access to electronic media encourages physical activity. To learn more about enriched environments and how you can create them click on these two articles - What is an enriched environment? And Practical ideas for creating enriched environments for kids.