9 ways that free play benefits children

Let Them Be Bored Challenge with Petits Filous

Image: Learning and Exploring Through Play

We knew when we heard about the Let Them Be Bored Challenge, part of the #PetitsFilousPlayFree campaign, that it would strike a chord with parents. The Challenge, sponsored by Petits Filous, encourages parents to embrace free play as part of their child’s regular routine. We enlisted a group of parents to try to let their kids be bored for a week.

“Play is an important part of child development – from physical development of their muscles and motor skills, to the development of cognitive and communication skills and social/emotional growth,” notes Kara from ChelseaMamma, one of our mums who took the Let Them Be Bored Challenge.

Petits Filous is a great snack for keeping the fun going, and it provides calcium and vitamin D.  

We were excited to hear what resulted when they stepped back, quit micromanaging their child’s playtime and see what happened. (Interested in learning more about free play, why its good for children and how you can encourage it as a parent? Read our post with tips for parents.) 

Here, 9 great benefits these mums discovered about free play and how it benefits children. We’d love to hear your experiences with free play — tell us in the comments!

1. Your trust in them can be rewarded

paint on child's hands

Image by Learning and Exploring Through Play

Amy from Learning and Exploring Through Play was nervous about letting her daughter paint on her own although she knew her daughter loved it. 

‘I pictured the walls, wardrobes and floors to be covered with paint!’ she writes. ‘But she has proved me wrong — colour mixing, painting her hands and squelching the paint between her fingers…She washed her hands by herself and tidied up well. Apart from a small smudge of orange paint on my bathroom towel, she had done and dusted the activity on all her own!’

Kat at Creative Playhouse has suggestions for “non-messy” messy options including: ‘chalk, coloured paper, card, crayons, highlighters, watercolour pencils, stickers, stencils, scissors, glue stick, tape, washi tape, books (all sorts of picture books, non-fiction, art books, etc for inspiration), an old camera’ and more.

Have your children surprised you with their free play?

girls in masks playings

Playtime at Five Little Doves house

2. Children can be just as happy without screen time

Let’s face it: It’s not easy enforcing screen time limits, as Laura from Five Little Doves acknowledges

‘I was worried that the children would whinge the moment I said they could not have the TV or play on the iPad and, if truth be told, I was worried that I might just crumble and give in!’

So she took a stand — sort of.

‘I told them that the iPads were broken and the TV wouldn’t turn on and, rather than whinge and cry and throw themselves on the floor in protest, they simply accepted it!’

How do you set limits on screen time with your children?

3. They will look forward to playtime even more

In a virtuous circle, free play begets more free play, says Laura from Five Little Doves. ‘One of the biggest surprises for me, after the first few days was that the children started to look forward to playing each day. “Once we’ve had our breakfast can we go and play?” they would ask before school, “If we get dressed fast will there be time to play?”’

When do your children try to sneak in free play?

4. They learn how to play better together

boys playing Star Wars

The boys at ChelseaMamma’s house get creative with active play

The parenting expert and Director of the Positive Parenting Project Anita Cleare explains that through play, children forge bonds and learn vital social skills. Kids often feel that they have to compete with each other, Anita says, and this is exacerbated if they have time limits set on activities, particularly technology.

Laura says, ‘It was interesting for me to see that the more the children played well together, the more that spilled out into other areas of our lives. When it was time for a snack it was lovely to hear them chatting away, sometimes still in character from whichever game they had just been playing, enjoying a delicious Petits Filous yoghurt, fortified in vitamin D, giving them an energy boost for plenty more play.’

ChelseaMamma couldn’t agree more, ‘The free play experiment proved that can and do actually get along, especially when there is a common goal.’

When fights do break out, Franca from A Moment with Franca has suggestions to help the kids sort it out themselves, starting with letting them think of a solution and going from there. See her tips on her post

5. They learn to play in new ways

Bex of The Mummy Adventure describes how her boys like to return time and again to a favourite game — an adorable activity they call ‘Pets’ involving their stuffed animals. When they return to the same game often, Anita says, children evolve it slightly each time to get something different out of it.

If you’d like to encourage your child to expand on their go-to activity, Amy of AmyTreasure.com has suggestions — ideas she used to gently challenge her daughter to do something other than dressing up while still providing independence.

Kate from Crafts on Sea even describes how flitting from one type of play to another is beneficial. ‘It allows them to follow their own ideas and there’s actually quite a deep level of thinking involved to see the potential in doing more,’ she writes.

6. Free play helps them understand others

girl playing cards from You Baby Me Mummy

Playing cards ended up being one the fun games You Baby Me Mummy played with her daughter

Aby from You Baby Me Mummy realised over the course of the week that when she does activities chosen by her daughter, it’s OK to avoid activities she doesn’t enjoy, like playing with dolls. She and her daughter realised they have more fun focussing on activities that they both enjoy, such as Paw Patrol card games.

‘Very quickly Ava learned that I enjoyed that more than the other activities and so that’s what she would ask to do,’ writes Aby.

It was a positive sign for Ava’s learning.

‘Anita pointed out that it was a great sign of development that Ava has started to understand the feelings of others. She was starting to put herself in my shoes and suggest an activity that she knew would get the more positive outcome.’

7. Free play helps them understand the world

Laura from Side Street Style talks about going with her children on a woodland walk where she and her partner allowed them to take their time and set the pace. ‘We often underestimate how much children learn from doing thing themselves,’ she writes, ‘from jumping in puddles we see cause and effect, from making dens they learn about spacial awareness.

‘These vital skills are being lost when children are provided with too much screen time and not enough organic learning opportunities.’

We love how Clare of Mudpie Fridays describes her son’s trial-and-error approach to making actual mudpies and how he adjust his technique over time because of what he learns about mixing in the water, adding sand and so on.

8. Everything becomes a toy

When Sian of Quite Frankly She Said unplugged her boys, they ended up drawing amazing creatures and worlds and creating stories about them, and pulling the cushions off the sofa to avoid the ‘lava’ of the sitting room floor. She writes:

‘It surprised me that, even though we have a lot of toys, they didn’t actually want to play with them that much. Instead they played with other things, things that are not toys, like the cushions, the bakeware from the kitchen, the chairs from the dining table. Chairs and cake tins became racing cars and steering wheels, cushions and blankets became fortresses.’

The world becomes their oyster when their imaginations take over. 

9. You get to be ‘Fun Mum’ or ‘Fun Dad’

girl with Petits Filous yoghut

Nell’s daughter on The Pigeon Pair and Me keep the fun going with a Petits Filous snack

Nell at Pigeon Pair and Me let her daughter dream up inventive games for the two of them — dressing up as witch fairies, setting up a royal tea party. Anita described how this isn’t just great for the kids, but also for us as parents.

‘She pointed out that play is “as close to being truly light-hearted and carefree as most parents get“.  She told me, “when you stop trying to control things – the housework, the  children’s play – you can relax, and become ‘Fun Mum’.”

Tell us what Free Play looks like at your home!


Petits Filous provides your child with the goodness of calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones. Furthermore, a recent Change4Life campaign launched by Public Health England recommends Petits Filous – with less than 100 calories per serving as a healthy snack for kids. Learn more about the nutritional benefits of Petits Filous at petitsfilous.co.uk

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