Embracing Free Play for Self Care


As young children grow and develop, play is how children learn. There is a quote from Piaget that says, “Play is the work of children.” Play invites children to be open and explore. When at play, children travel into a space of pure creativity and mindfulness. Children choose play based on the desires of their heart. What about adults? Is playing the antidote for the challenges of adult life? Is playing the secret to a restorative self-care practice for early childhood educators?

As an educator we give time to others. We give selflessly to our schools, community, and the children. The work is rewarding but challenging, creating stress and tension in our physical self. An important aspect of becoming an accomplished practitioner in early education is taking care of self. Self-care is talked about, but more often than not the demands of serving others take precedent over developing a rejuvenating self-care practice. Incorporating more free play into our lives will support our growth and well being as educators.

Looking closer, play for adults can mimic the play we observe in children. This is free play, pure, with no rules or expected outcomes. Play is an activity done for pleasure, all encompassing, highly engaging, and an activity where time vanishes. All the benefits of play are available to us as adults. 

For children, play boosts imagination, concentration, creativity, and excitement for life. These are qualities that adults seek from books, seminars, and recreational activities. Is it possible that engaging in free play could help educators attain the same benefits?

Play invites children to practice social skills and work in community. Free play helps children discover who they are and create a deeper life experience. Play opens up the world for children. Free play for educators could open up a world away from work. It could help us turn our attention to what is important, being in the moment and experiencing life to the fullest. 

Because this type of play is free and has no rules, it invites the imagination to run wild and an expression of our true self to emerge. Free play invites the spirit inside of us to be released and come alive. Engaging in play will help educators cultivate mindfulness, a practice that will benefit our growth in and outside of work.

Children are attracted to play because play provides an opportunity to experience the moment. Adults often overthink before engaging in an activity. Children are just the opposite; they live in the moment and choose play that appeals to their senses. Children choose their play for the sheer joy of the activity, an experience that speaks to the heart, and feeds their spirit. The adult spirit is the same and nurtured by experiences where we feel something and lose a sense of time. Free play is a time where we can be fully immersed and absorb the experience.

The opportunity to experience the benefits of play are available to all educators. The only requirement is an open mind and the willingness to try. The practice involves making a commitment to set aside the things we need to do, and place some time and energy into self-care. Healing will come from participating in free play, as we engage with our true self, the self we discover during play.

Do you take time to play? 

How does this contribute to your self-care?

Have you ever tried free play as an adult?

What was your favorite play experience as a child?