Give Your Kids the Gift of Free Play

Five good ideas to get your kids to just play


Published:

Photo courtesy of Pam Lobley

Too much on the schedule? Children’s lives these days are often planned down to the minute. They go from school to after-care to sports or dance. They take music lessons or participate in scouting. They have homework. Even weekends (especially weekends) can be jammed with tournaments, practices, classes and tutoring. 

Not surprisingly, free play for school-age kids has all but disappeared. Decades ago, it was the only kind of play there was. Kids went outside and played with whatever and whomever was in their neighborhood until it was time to come home for dinner. No one worried if they were improving themselves through lessons or skill building; they were simply expected to play.

In our crazy "get ahead" world, we think our kids will be better off with lots of classes, camps, sports and other types of enriching activities. But studies are now showing how important free play is for our children. It is in fact, a key part of their healthy development and social skills. Free play teaches flexibility and problem solving. It allows children independence, and teaches them negotiation and compromise as they make rules to their own games and then have to play by them.

If your children seem to whine, act combatively, feel anxious or even just tired, it could be a sign that they are burned out on activities and need to just play. Here are some free play ideas you can easily incorporate into your busy lifestyle.

  1. When you choose a daycare or camp for your children, try to pick the one with the least structure and the most recess. Make sure they have time to make up games on their own, or play in a free form way. (Remember “Red Rover” or “Freeze Tag”?) They should be able to play without adults making the teams, calling the shots, deciding the rules.
  2. If they’re having trouble figuring out what to play, teach them games you played: House, Cops and Robbers, Capture the Flag, etc.  They can play these at a park or in a backyard. Show them the game, but then let them play on their own with their friends or siblings. If you need to be nearby for safety reasons, fine, but don’t interfere with their games.  Playing on their own is what gives them independence.
  3. Don’t be afraid to do nothing! It might feel weird to have an empty Saturday afternoon, but resist the temptation to run off to the movies or a museum. Sometimes, a little boredom is just what kids need to get creative and invent something, or unwind and day dream. When they race from one thing to the next, their minds never get bored enough to inspire creativity. 
  4. Enforce unplugged time.  They can’t get bored enough to daydream or invent if they are always on their phone or playing a video game.  You may have to bear some loud wails of protest, but if you can establish that there are certain times of the day when screens are not allowed, they will eventually accept it and cope by thinking of something else to do.
  5. Do not attach a value to their play.  In other words, pretending to be Spiderman for an afternoon is just as good for them as batting practice. As Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Our children spend so many hours a day in the pursuit of knowledge – letting them cultivate imagination is a gift. 

Learning to entertain themselves, and to function in situations when things aren’t going their way, is an essential part of your child’s happiness.  Free play will teach this life skill, and they’ll have fun, too.

Pam Lobley has written comedy, plays, newspaper columns, blogs and books.  Her latest book "Why Can't We Just Play?" is a sweet and funny memoir of a summer she spent “doing nothing” with her kids.  You can keep up with her at www.pamlobley.com.

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Calendar

June 2020

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Cost: $11

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Telephone: 191-990-25432
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Cost: $70/month

Where:
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Cost: Free

Where:
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Sponsor: ActivityHero
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Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
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Cost: See website for fees

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Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
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Cost: $15-$35

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Telephone: 919-673-5784
Website »

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Cost: $35 per Student

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820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

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Cost: 125

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4104 Watkins Road
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Sponsor: Mighty Me
Telephone: 919-397-2475
Contact Name: Karin Cross
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Live online classes for kids - FREE! Kids and families can join our online classes from home while school is out. Our special guests teach kids about art, medicine, music, cooking, science and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online at your Home
265 Cambridge Ave #60923
Palo Alto, NC  94306
View map »


Sponsor: ActivityHero
Telephone: 800-437-6125
Contact Name: Mabelle
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Triangle Restaurant Week (January 20-26, 2020) is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants....

Cost: $15-$35

Where:
Participating Restaurants
, NC


Sponsor: Triangle Blvd
Telephone: 919-673-5784
Website »

More information

We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
Website »

More information

Drop in on a Wednesday evening between May 13 and July 1 (8-9:30 p.m.) for a supportive, inclusive, empowering virtual session for parents from prenatal through about 12 months. We'll facilitate a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Zoom
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Sponsor: Triangle Area Parenting Support
Telephone: 984-464-1601
Contact Name: Leigh Greene
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Show Less...

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Live online classes for kids - FREE! Kids and families can join our online classes from home while school is out. Our special guests teach kids about art, medicine, music, cooking, science and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online at your Home
265 Cambridge Ave #60923
Palo Alto, NC  94306
View map »


Sponsor: ActivityHero
Telephone: 800-437-6125
Contact Name: Mabelle
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
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Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

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Cost: 125

Where:
Unitarian Universalist PEACE Fellowship
4104 Watkins Road
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View map »


Sponsor: Mighty Me
Telephone: 919-397-2475
Contact Name: Karin Cross
Website »

More information

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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

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Cost: 12/class

Where:
Zoom Online
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Sponsor: KidzArt North Raleigh
Telephone: 919-271-0710
Contact Name: Chen Jiang
Website »

More information

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Cost: $15-$35

Where:
Participating Restaurants
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Sponsor: Triangle Blvd
Telephone: 919-673-5784
Website »

More information

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Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
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View map »


Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
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Cost: $15 - $20

Where:
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5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
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Sponsor: USNWC
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Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

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Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
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View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

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Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Online at your Home
265 Cambridge Ave #60923
Palo Alto, NC  94306
View map »


Sponsor: ActivityHero
Telephone: 800-437-6125
Contact Name: Mabelle
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Triangle Restaurant Week (January 20-26, 2020) is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants....

Cost: $15-$35

Where:
Participating Restaurants
, NC


Sponsor: Triangle Blvd
Telephone: 919-673-5784
Website »

More information

We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

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Downtown Wake Forest
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View map »

More information

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Cost: $6

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Contact Name: Jenny Hill
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

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Holly Springs Cultural Center
300 W. Ballentine St.
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View map »


Sponsor: Farmers Market Coordinator
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Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

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Cost: 50-80

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Sponsor: Save A Life Now Training Center LLC
Telephone: 919-215-6942
Contact Name: Valentina Cordoba
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Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
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Live online classes for kids - FREE! Kids and families can join our online classes from home while school is out. Our special guests teach kids about art, medicine, music, cooking, science and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online at your Home
265 Cambridge Ave #60923
Palo Alto, NC  94306
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Sponsor: ActivityHero
Telephone: 800-437-6125
Contact Name: Mabelle
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Taco ’Bout Good Food! Zambrero Opens in Durham Get ready to have your world guac’ed! Zambrero, Australia’s largest Mexican franchise, is opening its first Durham location on June 13! ...

Cost: Varies

Where:
University Hill, Durham NC
3109 Shannon Road, #102
Durham, NC  27707
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Telephone: 910-239-2316
Contact Name: Susie Deatherage
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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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The 16th Annual (Virtual) Beaver Queen Pageant, Beavers in the Stream! The Beaver Queen Pageant is the Triangle’s own special mix of folly, pageantry, and humor. Contestants take on beaver...

Cost: free

Where:
Online
, NC


Sponsor: Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
Telephone: 919-423-1502
Contact Name: Rachel Cohn
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Triangle Restaurant Week (January 20-26, 2020) is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants....

Cost: $15-$35

Where:
Participating Restaurants
, NC


Sponsor: Triangle Blvd
Telephone: 919-673-5784
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We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
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The Beaver Queen Pageant is the Triangle’s own special mix of folly, pageantry, and humor. Contestants take on beaver personalities and compete for the title of Beaver Queen with their fashion,...

Cost: free

Where:
Online
, NC


Sponsor: Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
Telephone: 919-698-9729
Contact Name: Rachel Cohn
Website »

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River Jam at the U.S. National Whitewater Center brings together live musical performances throughout the year to a one-of-a-kind outdoor venue, right in the middle of the world’s largest...

Cost: $6

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Contact Name: Jenny Hill
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