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Free Play in Kindergarten

There has been such a push especially in the last 20 years as related to integrating play into learning. According to a survey of the Genius of Play, about 75 percent of children under 12 are not getting enough active free play. 

Sometimes it can feel like free play is “wasted” time, but it is incredibly valuable to development. 

Here are some benefits of free play: 

Regulation: free play allows time for unrestricted movements which help build regulation skills. They have time to be creative and explore which allows children to engage their parasympathetic nervous system. Free play allows children to move in ways which may help to regulate their nervous systems and manage their emotions. When you are given space and time to explore, creativity can take hold. 

Sensory Processing: Sensory processing is a key to regulation. When children are given time for free play, they can regulate their sensory systems more easily because they engage in play that incorporates all of the senses. This is especially true in outdoor play (remember the garden). 

Executive Function: This also allows for them to try new things when they are feeling relaxed which can help to build executive function skills like adaptive capacity. It can help the child learn to choose and prioritize what play they may want to engage in first, and what they may put off until later. 

Social Skills: Free play offers many different opportunities for children to learn how to work together, cooperative play, conflict resolution, practice empathy, problem solve, communicate, and more. 

Motor skills: Motor skills are absolutely necessary for so many things in life and academics. You need your muscles to be strong and coordinated enough to write, to read, and to learn. Play can engage so many motor skills from visual motor skills, gross, and fine motor skills as well. 

It is crucial to remember that play and academics are not able to be separated. This is because many of the foundational reasons that play supports development are also the same development needs that children use for academics. If they can’t regulate their nervous systems, then they will not be able to learn effectively. If they haven’t yet acquired enough strength or coordination then learning will be a struggle. So much of our lives are structured, that it may be necessary to plan for free play and exploration time. 

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