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Why “Free Play” Is Great For Your Kid’s Brain

July 29, 2016 by Kinetic Kids, Inc.

Lots of activities are good for your kid’s brain: music lessons, board games, learning a second language, puzzles and of course, one-on-one brain training.

A portrait of two, happy, smiling young children, playing outside in a pile of red and yellow fallen Maple Tree leaves on an Autumn day.But unstructured play has taken a back seat in our ever-busy, high-tech world. Remember hide-and-seek, dress-up, restaurant, bike rides, roller skating, building snowmen and making up dance routines? That’s “unstructured.” (And fun!)

And here’s some good news: several recent studies have shown that this type of activity is beneficial not only for physical health and emotional maturity (think sharing, compromise, dealing with disappointment), but also cognitive skills.

In one recent study from the University of Colorado, psychologists studied the play habits of 70 six-year-olds. They kept track of how much time the kids spent doing spontaneous activities (in other words, not structured or organized by an adult), like imaginative play and self-selected reading. They also kept track of how much time the kids spent in “structured” activities (organized and supervised by adults), such as homework, community service, sports practice or music lessons. The results?

  • The kids who spent more time in “free play” had more highly developed self-directed executive function.
  • The kids who engaged in more structured activities had less self-directed control.

pumpkin patch girlWhy is this important? For starters, when asked to rank the most vital skill for school readiness, kindergarten teachers said “self-regulation.” Early self-regulation levels are also linked to academic achievement later. This high level of executive function helps kids stay focused and independent in the classroom and when doing homework.

When kids get to make their own decisions about what they’ll play, who they’ll be, where they’ll stand in the hierarchy of bullies, bosses and shy kids, they build self-confidence. They learn other important skills, like problem-solving, making decisions based on consequences, calculating risk, creative thinking, visual processing (reading treasure maps) and auditory processing (“Simon Says”), among others.

This isn’t to say you’re doing your child a disservice by enrolling them in soccer camp or an art workshop. Just don’t aim to fill every moment of every day with a planned activity. Now that they’ll have plenty of structure with school starting back up, when able, try to let weekends and school breaks be primarily fun and wonderful possibility!

Want To Encourage A Sense of Calm & Focus Through Play?

One way you can absolutely help to achieve this is by making fidget balls!  Fidget balls are fun for children to use, but they also help kids learn to self-soothe and concentrate better . . .  and just in time for school too!!  Learn more:

Learn How to Make Amazing Fidget Balls

We certainly hope that this information proves very useful (and fun!) for both you and your amazing kid!  

Until next time . . .

Brought to you by:

  • LearningRx: Brain Training and cognitive skills testing helps struggling children and adults think, remember, read and learn better; and
  • The Epiphany School of Charlotte is a non-profit, independent day school dedicated to providing proven programs for students with Asperger’s or other social communication differences.




Topics: Pediatric Occupation Therapy, Autism Spectrum Disorder

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