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Definition

Free play is a form of play that is not controlled, planned or directed by a teacher, parent, or any other outside figure. It's time when children are left to play without an outside structure imposed on them, where they can make up their own rules. Free play is often contrasted to structured play, and because of that, it's also referred to as 'unstructured play'.

Fisher, K. et al. (2010) Playing around in School: Implications for Learning and Educational Policy (Book Section)

Abstract:

A fundamental question has spawned fervent debates in classrooms and on Capitol Hill: How do we best educate children to be successful in a global, ever-changing world? Here we present the evidence that playful learning pedagogies not only promote important academic learning but also build the skills required for success in the 21st century. A brief review of current educational trends and their underlying philosophies is followed by the introduction to of the concept of “playful learning,” a teaching approach that uses free-play and guided-play activities to promote academic, socio-emotional, and cognitive development. The chapter then reviews correlational, observational, and experimental literature on playing around in school and offers suggestions and future directions for research in the emerging playful learning domain.

Date:
January 2010
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
Page/s:
Synonyms:
  • Academic outcomes
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Free play
  • Guided-play
  • Literature review
  • Playful learning
Relevant age group/s:
Tags:

Fisher, K. et al. (2013) Taking Shape: Supporting Preschoolers' Acquisition of Geometric Knowledge Through Guided Play (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Shape knowledge, a key aspect of school readiness, is part of early mathematical learning. Variations in how children are exposed to shapes may affect the pace of their learning and the nature of their shape knowledge. Building on evidence suggesting that child-centered, playful learning programs facilitate learning more than other methods, 4- to 5-year-old children (N = 70) were taught the properties of four geometric shapes using guided play, free play, or didactic instruction. Results revealed that children taught shapes in the guided play condition showed improved shape knowledge compared to the other groups, an effect that was still evident after 1 week. Findings suggest that scaffolding techniques that heighten engagement, direct exploration, and facilitate “sense-making,” such as guided play, undergird shape learning.

Date:
January 2013
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
Page/s:
n/a–n/a
Synonyms:
  • Academic outcomes
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Experimental
  • Free play
  • Learning
  • Playful learning
  • Pre-academic skills
  • Guided-play
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Foundation, . (2014) Cultures of Creativity, nurturing creative mindsets (Video Recording)

Abstract:

Cultures of Creativity, nurturing creative mindsets from LEGO Foundation on Vimeo.

Creativity is one of the most important competencies of the 21st Century. Yet, the puzzling question is how to nurture it? Children are creative from the day they are born and the film describes how to support creativity across cultures. The content is based on the report, Cultures of Creativity, published by the LEGO Foundation, 2013. Authors: David Gauntlett and Bo Stjerne Thomsen and 20 leading international experts on play, learning and creativity. Read more on LEGOFoundation.com

Author/s:
Date:
January 2014
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
Page/s:
Synonyms:
  • Creativity
  • Cultural context
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Free play
  • Learning
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Francis, G. et al. (2019) Do Tangible User Interfaces promote social behaviour during free play? A comparison of autistic and typically-developing children playing with passive and digital construction toys (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Background
Little is known about the extent to which embodied digital mediation may support social engagement between children with or without autism (ASD) in free play settings. This study draws on Affordance theory and Constructionism to investigate social play behaviours associated with use of a Tangible User Interface (TUI) during free play.
Method
The study used a detailed observational and descriptive design. Two groups of children with ASD and two groups of typically developing (TD) children were filmed during a 20-minute play session with either a passive toy, or a digital toy with a TUI. Behaviours were coded according to a scheme based on Parten’s Play States. Data were described in terms of duration, frequency and the likelihood of transition to another state, given the current state.
Results
For TD children, Parallel and Associative were the most frequently observed Play States across both conditions. For those with ASD, Parallel Play and Non-Play-Related Conversation were the most frequent states in the passive condition, while Parallel and Associative Play were the most common in the TUI condition. This group demonstrated a longer duration of co-operative play with the TUI toy compared to TD children. Both groups showed higher frequencies of social play in the TUI condition.
Conclusions
Social play states can be effectively mediated by TUIs for both TD and ASD groups. For the ASD group, repetitive behaviour with a TUI may not be inhibitory to social engagement. Practitioners may consider making TUI enabled toys available during free play opportunities.

Date:
January 2019
Volume:
58
Page/s:
68-82
Synonyms:
  • Cooperative play
  • Free play
  • Social play
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Freeman, S. et al. (2013) Parent-child interactions in autism: characteristics of play (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Although the literature on parent-child interactions in young children with autism has examined dyadic style, synchrony, and sustained engagement, the examination of parental skill in sustaining and developing play skills themselves has not been targeted. This study examined the extent to which parents of young children with autism match and scaffold their child's play. Sixteen dyads of parents and their children with autism participated in this study along with 16 matched dyads of typically developing children. Both groups were administered a structured play assessment and were observed during a 10-min free play situation. Strategies of play were examined and results revealed that parents of children with autism initiated more play schemes and suggested and commanded play acts more than parents of typical children. They also responded to their child's play acts more often with a higher level play act, while parents of typical children matched/expanded their responses to their child. Parent imitation was also related to longer sequences of play. The findings can guide further research and play intervention for parents.

Author/s:
Date:
January 2013
Volume:
17
Page/s:
147-161
Synonyms:
  • Atypical development
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Engagement
  • Free play
  • Object play
  • Parent/Guardian play
  • Play assessment
  • Playful learning
  • Pretend play
  • Social cognition
  • Social play
  • Social-emotional
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Ginsburg, K. et al. (2007) The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Please click on the link provided below to read the abstract.

Date:
January 2007
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
119
Page/s:
182-191
Synonyms:
  • Exploratory play
  • Free play
  • Literature review
  • Mental health
  • Physical health
  • Well-being outcomes
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Gray, P. (2009) Play as a foundation for hunter-gatherer social existence (Journal Article)

Abstract:
Author/s:
Date:
January 2009
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
1
Page/s:
476–522
Synonyms:
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Free play
  • Games with rules
  • Humour
  • Literature review
  • Physical play
  • Playfulness
  • Pretend play
  • Pro-social behaviour
  • Social-emotional
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Gray, P. (2011) The decline of play and the rise of psychopathology in children and adolescents (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Over the past half century, in the United States and other developed nations, children’s free play with other children has declined sharply. Over the same period, anxiety, depression, suicide, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism have increased sharply in children, adolescents, and young adults. This article documents these historical changes and contends that the decline in play has contributed to the rise in the psychopathology of young people. Play functions as the major means by which children (1) develop intrinsic interests and competencies; (2) learn how to make decisions, solve problems, exert self-control, and follow rules; (3) learn to regulate their emotions; (4) make friends and learn to get along with others as equals; and (5) experience joy. Through all of these effects, play promotes mental health. Key words: anxiety; decline of play; depression; feelings of helplessness; free play; narcissism; psychopathology in children; suicide

Author/s:
Date:
January 2011
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
3
Page/s:
443–463
Synonyms:
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Free play
  • Literature review
  • Mental health
  • Social-emotional
  • Well-being outcomes
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline:

Harkness, S. et al. (2004) Asian and Euro-American parents' ethnotheories of play and learning: Effects on preschool children's home routines and school behaviour (Journal Article)

Abstract:

Asian and Euro-American parents of preschool-aged children were interviewed concerning their beliefs about the nature and purpose of play; they also completed two questionnaires and a diary of their children's daily activities. The children's teachers were interviewed and provided information about the behaviour of the children in preschool. The Euro-American parents were found to believe that play is an important vehicle for early development, while the Asian parents saw little developmental value in it. On the other hand, the Asian parents believed more strongly than the Euro-Americans in the importance of an early start in academic training for their children. These contrasting beliefs were instantiated in parental practices at home regarding the use of time and the provision of toys. At preschool, the Asian children were similar to the Euro-Americans on a standardised behavioural measure but they were described by their teachers as initially more academically advanced than the Euro-American children, and as showing different patterns of play and social interaction. The implications of these results for home–school relations and the design of early education programmes are discussed.

Date:
January 2004
Volume:
28
Page/s:
97-104
Synonyms:
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Free play
  • Learning
Relevant age group/s:

Hart, R. (2002) Containing children: some lessons on planning for play from New York City (Journal Article)

Abstract:

This paper relates the history of playground provision in New York to changing conceptions of childhood, and specifically to a felt need to ’contain’ children in order to keep them off the streets, safe from traffic and unsavoury influences - a trend that children have tended to resist. Playgrounds most often substitute a narrow range of physical activity for the spontaneous play in diverse environments that children more naturally crave. Not only do playgrounds fail to satisfy the complexity of children’s developmental needs, they also tend to separate children from the daily life of their communities - exposure to which is fundamental to the development of civil society. What is needed, argues the author, is not more segregated playgrounds, but a greater attempt to make neighbourhoods safe and welcoming for children, responding to their own preferences for free play close to home.

Author/s:
Date:
January 2002
Publisher or Journal:
Volume:
14
Page/s:
135-148
Synonyms:
  • Free play
  • Literature review
  • Outdoor play
  • Physical play
  • Playground
Relevant age group/s:
Research discipline: