Nowadays children have more structured activity than ever before. It’s easy to get sucked in to worry about whether you are doing enough for them, organising enough classes for them, or pushing them hard enough to achieve. MadeForMums and Fisher-Price surveyed over 1100 parents and found that 66% of parents worry that they don’t play enough with their children.

The kids & I went along to the Fisher-Price “Discover Your Way” event last week to hear from experts in the field of play about how important free play and child-led play is for children.

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Dr David Whitebread, University of Cambridge, senior lecturer in psychology and education, developmental cognitive psychologist and early-years specialist, advises that allowing children to play independently is an important part of their development:

“The really big concern over the last decade is the relative loss of opportunities for children to engage in child-led play. Children’s lives are much more structured than they have ever been – and there is quite a lot of evidence to suggest this can be detrimental. Parents can certainly be given guidelines about productive ways of playing with their children, but it’s important that play is not structured all the time”.

I definitely agree with this. Kids need time to think of their own ideas and develop their own. Sometimes mine might complain that they are bored, but 5 minutes later I’ll hear them charging around the house playing some kind of imaginary game – rescuing each other from peril or pretending that one has turned into a cat! With all their time structured, they would not be getting these opportunities to develop and lead their own play. Through their own simple group games they are learning so many life skills like negotiation, turn taking, and experiencing what fun can come from using their imaginations and creativity.

At a younger level, babies and toddlers exploring objects independently will still be learning so much through their play, using their senses to discover the world, absorbing all sorts of information like what happens when you drop a ball, or what type of things feel heavy or light; rough or smooth.

David Whitebread said:

“Research shows that development of ‘self-regulation abilities’ – which are predictive of academic achievement and emotional wellbeing in children – has a very strong link to the amount of time spent in child-led play. Careful observation has shown that children often have a purpose in their play when left alone – it is not just mucking about. There is rigorous evidence that shows that if you want a happy, healthy child that fulfils their potential then don’t deny them the opportunity and freedom to play in their own way and learn naturally. It is important to give children time to play on their own or with peers, but also provide them with a rich, varied and balanced life experience.” 

This is in-line with Fisher-Price’s philosophy as they explained how their toys are designed to promote discovery and play on the child’s own terms, that’s why they have launched ‘Discover Your Way’, a celebration of all the wonderful and different ways that children like to play helping them to develop happily at their own natural pace.

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JNV_BILLIE_FAIERS_FISHER_PRICE_37My boys were having lots of fun with free play in the play area while I listened to the talk with the other mums. They were particularly keen on the red car shown above!

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Here are the full survey results on how parents feel about their children’s play:

Average time children spend playing:

  • Daily overall: 5.4 hours
  • Directly with parent: 2.3 hours
  • Independently: 1.9 hours

Do you worry about not being able to play with your child enough?

  • No, my child plays enough in other ways 33.18%
  • Yes, a little 55.13%
  • Yes, a lot 10.70%
  • Other 0.98%

Do you feel that structured play activities aid child development more than child led play?

  • Structured play aids child development more than child led play: 34%
  • Structured play aids child development about the same amount as child led play: 44%
  • Structured play activities aid child development less than child led play: 7%
  • Not sure: 15%

Do you feel under pressure that your child reaches certain stages of development at particular times in their life?

  • Yes, a lot 16.17%
  • Yes, a little 30.65%
  • Sometimes 26.33%
  • No, not much 17.49%
  • Not at all 9.36%

Do you feel under pressure to create new activities/ experiences for your child?

  • Yes 29.86%
  • Sometimes 50.09%
  • No 18.29%
  • I don’t know 1.77%

The importance of free play and child-led play for children's development How do you feel about the survey results? Do they ring true for you? Let me know in the comments