Make time for free play

by Amy Routt

I was raised with four brothers — the only girl and right smack in the middle. We grew up in the piney woods of East Texas and spent hours upon hours building forts and zip lines and exploring the far reaches of our five acres. Daily we tended our goats, rabbits and chickens. Hours were spent together playing house, school, office, Legos and board games.

Was all this time spent blissfully happy and getting along just perfectly? Absolutely not! How else could conflict and resolution skills be learned? We have to practice these skills, and playing, for children, is the beginning of learning these necessary skills.

Beloved Fred Rogers once said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning, but for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that, “Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child!” Play is that important.

Play allows children to create and explore the world around them. It allows them to conquer their fears while practicing adult roles alone or alongside their peers or caregivers. Play develops imagination, dexterity and physical, cognitive and emotional strength.

A rising concern we have now is that time for free play has been markedly reduced for many children. Free play is being reduced in schools and in homes. It is important that we protect our children and their free playtime. They need the adults around them to make boundaries with technology, time and overscheduling them with organized activities.  

I know in my own family there have been many times when I have realized that we had a length of time go by where we were so busy with all of the scheduled activities that we have missed family free play time. Sometimes we just need to pull back and prioritize some playtime! Playing not only can allow time to talk and bond, but a huge plus is playing can be free. It costs you no money to go outside and play hide and seek, chase or just simply throw rocks in a puddle. The possibilities are endless when it comes to playing.

Make time for roaming the woods, building forts inside or outside, playing Legos and just a good old game of Uno. Let your kids guide the play.


Amy Routt is the early childhood education coordinator for the Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN; and believes that a parent is a child’s best first teacher. AETN is committed to serving the whole child where they live, learn and play.