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What is Free Play?

Free PlayThe most popular definition of play, used widely across the play sector was written by Bob Hughes of Play Education in 1982. It describes play as behaviour which is “freely chosen, personally directed, and intrinsically motivated, i.e. performed for no external goal or reward”.

Play Wales provide a useful breakdown of this definition:

Freely chosen means that children themselves choose when, how and what to play. As such it is not part of a set programme and does not have any steps that need to be completed.

Personally directed means children themselves decide the rules and roles they take within their play.

Intrinsically motivated means that play is undertaken for its own sake, and not performed for any reward, certificate or status.

Children’s right to play is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Article 31 of the convention says “all children have the right to relax, play and join in a wide range of activities” (www.unicef.org.uk).

The Scottish Commissioner for Children and Young People has produced an illustrated guide of the UNCRC.

Inspiring Scotland fund us for our free play work through their Go Play fund. You can read their baseline report on play here.

The Benefits of Free Play

There are lots of benefits to free play. These include:

  • Physical benefits - free play is a major source of exercise, promoting fitness and contributing to the healthy development of children.
  • Social skills - for children taking part in free play leads to greater interaction among peers and adults, and improved abilities to share, negotiate, communicate and corporate.
  • Cognitive and intellectual development - children learn through free play. It helps them develop problem solving skills, memory, creativity and observation skills, as well as learning how to manage risk.
  • Emotional health and well-being - free play can contribute to feelings of happiness and contentment, and provide moments of excitement. It helps children develop resilience, increased confidence and improved self-esteem.

Inspiring Scotland’s Go Play baseline report includes a useful section on the benefits of free play.

To find out about Youth Highland's free play work click here.

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