quick trick: focus on free play

This little Quick Trick isn’t as much a trick as it is a reminder–for parents, caregivers, teachers. .  . for my husband and me.

Though I have always known and appreciated the importance of play for my little ones, I have to admit that it’s getting more difficult as they get older to give them time for play. 

And if you ask me, kids–no matter the age–need time for free play.

With religion school one afternoon, Cora’s dance class one day and Maddy’s dance class another, soccer on Saturdays, and homework on top of it all, free time for free play is hard to find some days.  Some weeks. Some months.

We try to play at the park for a few minutes immediately after school most days so the kids can burn some steam, but it’s not always easy, especially in the wintertime.  And by the time we get home, unpack, clean up, have a snack, and get through homework time, much of the day has been whittled away.

But we’re making free play a priority over here–and we have for some time now. 

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Focus on Free Play: Free play time is hard for me because I want to spend time with my kids.  I miss Maddy, Owen, and Cora when they’re at school, and–call me crazy–I want to hang out with them when they’re home.

Kids need free time to dress up and play (yes, Cora is wearing dress-up clothes here) . . .

. . . and they need free time to do nothing.

And that’s not to say that I’m shadowing my kids every day, all up in their space, or begging them to play with me.

Because of our ‘lifestyle of learning’ and because I’ve been a stay at home mom for all of their lives, the kids expect certain behaviors from me: they expect that I’ll be up for playing with them, and they expect that I’ll have an idea of something fun for them to do whenever they want–or need–something to do.


Kids need free time with blocks. . .

. . . and they need free time with crafts–to do what they please.

I like to play dollhouse with the kids.  I’m quick make cameos in a game of ‘family’ as the wild aunt or mean mom, or I ‘ll be the sick patient when they’re playing ‘hospital’.  I’ll always visit their restaurant when they’re cookin’ up something special a la wooden cupcakes or mud-pie pizza. I like making obstacle courses and forts and helping the girls pick out dress-ups for fashion shows.

Puzzles, board games, card games, and crafts are totally fun for me, especially if one of the kids personally invites me to play.

Don’t get me wrong–there are days when I’ve had enough and I cannot drag myself to eat another wooden sandwich or plastic potato chip; there are days when I am all gamed-out, dolled-out, puzzled-out.

I know that children need the guidance of the adults in their lives, but I also know that kids need freedom from those adults as well, in order to grow.  They need time with parents; they need time with playmates and siblings; and they need time by themselves.

Free time for bike riding, exploring,

and enjoying nature is a must for all kiddos.

So a few times a week–okay, maybe one day on a crazy week–after  homework is finished and I’ve hung with the kids a bit, I’ll just sit on the couch and read.  Or I’ll start dinner, finish some chores, write the last part of an article, do a little bit of work on the computer.

And I may or may not start them off with a game or an idea.

Most times I don’t.  I just make sure that the kids are safe, that they’re within earshot or eyeshot, and I encourage them to play–alone or with each other–playing anything they want.

Sometimes they’re doing something I understand, and sometimes they’re doing something confusing to me that seems totally crazy and complete and utter nonsense.  It doesn’t matter, though.  They’re playing. 

Without me.

They’re playing what they want, making decisions they want, using their imaginations they way they want, and enjoying being kids.  Simple.  With me nearby but removed from the equation.

Because isn’t it their job, as kids, to play?


I found this video called Prescription for Play, which was produced in collaboration with the Alliance for Childhood and KaBOOM! particularly interesting. If you have  a minute (while the kids are safely playing, of course!) take a look at it:

Happy, happy free play for you, and thanks for checking out this Quick Trick!




  1. Jill says

    Loved this post. I struggle everyday with how much time “alone” to play each should have. I have a 3 yo daughter and 7 yo son. I also work full time. I am seeking a way to balance our needs to connect vs. free play : ) Sometimes this means going for bike rides or walks with the kids…sometimes trying to read a book amidst the chaos ; )


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