Improving my Teaching Practice

Are we really providing enough FREE play?

Free play: are we providing enough? is it really FREE play?


I’m still reading “It’s okay not to share” by Heather Shumaker and this week I have been thinking a lot about this quote:

“Dr. James Christie and Dr. Francis Wardle show that shorter play periods (less than thirty minutes) reduce the complexity and maturity of child’s play” Heather Shumaker, 19

It really got me thinking, am I providing at least, at the absolute very least, 30 minutes of uninterrupted free play to the children in my class?

There were a few days this past week we pushed back when we go outside so the children had a longer time to play inside the classroom after snack. It was truly fascinating to watch. It does take about 20-30 minutes for the children to get “settled in” their play. I noticed that the second half hour of our morning play time feels different than the first. I observed children engage with materials for longer periods of time and start to engage more with their peers. There is no doubt in my mind that we provide at least 30 minutes of play in our daily schedule because we have very few scheduled activities and we value play so much. Our whole day is pretty much made up of play so I had to ask myself:

When I do provide 30 minutes of free play, is it truly free and uninterrupted?

Play is a child’s work; this is where all of the learning happens. Play allows children to develop conflict resolution skills, work out complex emotions, develop longer attention spans, discover theories they can test and repair and the list goes on and on and on. I have to say it again play is serious work for children and is so important to their overall development. Interruptions to this work can really put a halt to what a child is discovering (check out my post about interruptions to a child’s play).

“When we interrupt a child, we also stop what she is doing, whatever process she may be in the middle of, as she focuses on us. Our interruptions, no matter how well intended, become distractions.”Magda Gerber, 6

Play should be interruption free and also free from adult agendas.

“If adults decide to teach by inserting their own ‘curriculum’ into an infant’s play, they may be tampering with an essential tool in the child’s education process, namely, his self-generated and self-renewing curiosity and joy of discovery.” Ruth Anne Hammond, 92

We need to let go of our plans for a child’s play and follow the plan that they have created. It can be so hard not to jump in and give suggestion to a child but holding back is worth it.

“Whenever we teach a child something, we forever destroy his chance to discover it for himself” Jean Piaget

We have to ask ourselves: am I providing, at the very least, 30 minutes of uninterrupted free play to the children in my life? If not, what valuable learning opportunities are we holding the children back from?


Shumaker, Heather. It’s OK Not to Share…and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids. New York: Penguin Group, 2012. Print.

Hammond, Ruth Anne. Respecting babies: a new look at Magda Gerber’s RIE approach. Washington, DC: Zero to Three, 2009. Print.

Gerber, Magda, and Allison Johnson. Your self-confident baby. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998. Print.

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