Burdette and Whittaker contend that play based problem solving “may promote executive functioning --- a higher-level skill that integrates attention and other cognitive functions such as planning organizing, sequencing and decision-making.” Working out the logistics of unstructured play also encourages children to develop social skills as they learn to compromise and cooperate with each other. This social learning contributes to the development of empathy, flexibility, self-awareness and self-regulation. Finally, Burdette and Whittaker argue that free play can improve emotional well-being in young children by minimizing anxiety, depression, aggression and sleep problems.
How does this play out in daily life, you ask? It means that unschooling families place as much value on park days and outdoor play as they do on any academic learning. It means that we encourage not just our young kids but also our 12 – 18 year olds to go outside and play. Get in the creek, climb trees, go for a hike, a run or a swim. We encourage them to get out in nature, open their senses and use their bodies.