Free Play
May 24, 2024

How Free Play Leads to Success

Right-brained learners /
Successful learning /
Kinesthetic Learners /
Kinesthetic Learning /
Learning activities /
Making learning fun /
Multisensory Learning /
Right-Brained Learner /
Visual Learning /
Whole Body Learning

In an effort to raise test scores and reduce spending, many schools have cut, or significantly reduced recess, physical education, music, art, and other enrichment activities. These actions have led to an increased number of students who are tired, stressed, and bored. Test scores have remained stagnant, and students are struggling to demonstrate patience and engage in productive negotiations with their peers.

Allowing children to engage in plenty of free play is incredibly valuable as research confirms that physical activity impacts brain development, effective communication between areas of the brain, and a child’s ability to successfully learn.

Health Benefits

  • Free play stimulates communication between the four lobes of the brain. Since each lobe contains critical functions needed for learning, fluent communication between them helps children improve their thinking, processing, and learning skills. 
  • Free play provides physical activity that helps children sleep better, which is important for renewal. Restful sleep increases a child’s focus during the day, and it helps them consolidate their learning at night during sleep.
  • Free play leads to higher oxygen levels in the brain, which is critical for learning due to higher levels of attention and processing.
  • Free play relieves stress, strengthens the immune system, and increases a child’s sense of well-being.

Eye Development

  • Free play helps with proper eye development. As eyes develop, they are constantly moving, scanning the environment during play. This physical experience causes the eyes to fully develop, which is directly related to a child’s ability to track while reading.
  • Free play provides children with the necessary 3-dimensional (3D) visual stimulation. This 3D visual experience stimulates all regions of the brain, leading to flourishing neural networks and enriched learning. While books and screens offer many benefits and learning opportunities, their 2-dimensional (2D) makeup does not offer all the necessary components for proper eye development. Many experts agree that a lack of 3D visual development due to limited time for free play away from screens results in learning difficulties and is frequently linked to dyslexia.
  •  According to Carla Hannaford, PdD., vision involves more than seeing; only 10% of vision occurs in the eyes themselves. The other 90% of visual processing relates to body movement and the sense of touch, which is critical to vision. As children engage in free play, they can fully experience objects through all their senses, and the whole brain is active in acquiring and storing rich information such as size, shape, color, texture, and other physical and sensory characteristics. Hannaford states in her book, Smart Moves, “The eyes need to actively experience the world as a whole for vision to develop fully” (p. 48). 

Learning Benefits

Free play allows for tactile exploration, resulting in an enriched background knowledge for classroom learning. Hands-on exposure to real objects as they appear in their environment is invaluable, especially for kinesthetic and tactile learners. Children gain a rich knowledge of their environment by naturally exploring as they play.

Free play fosters imaginative play, allowing children the opportunity to develop and refine many important skills:

  • Language & Communication

  • Critical Thinking & Problem Solving

  • Social Behavior & Group Dynamics

  • Emotions & Self Expression

  • Creativity & Innovation

Imaginative play helps children to understand and develop meaning about the world around them. It also allows children to experience a situation from another perspective while providing an opportunity for adults to understand a child’s perspective.

Further Reading

27 Ways to Prevent Summer Learning Loss

Using Movement in Learning   

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