Is free play ‘teaching’ ?

Conversations with friends, after I have taken my workshops often go along the lines of ‘ If children are allowed to explore on their own, how do you teach them?’ Another  common question is ‘what is the learning intention behind your outdoor workshops?’ and  what do you tell your children that they should be learning from your workshops?’

The only response I can give is that the children learn for themselves. I am there to help them discover. I cannot tell them what they should be learning. Indeed a lot of the time I do not know myself as my sessions are geared to exploration in itself. An explorer sets out to discover something new, not with an end goal of what it is that they are going to find. That is how I look at my teaching.

This is a difficult concept for most adults to get to grips with as it contradicts the standard teaching model. However by letting children discover for themselves, questions emerge that you would never imagine. Last workshop we were excavating in the park and we found volcanic rock, critters that no one was able to identify and a whole range of colours and shapes. All of this was found by the children with very little input from me. The whole group was totally engaged for the entire session.

The key I have found to teaching is to question lots but to answer less…..


14 responses to this post.

  1. i completely agree with this concept!!! way to go in doing this for children! today there are way too many “hyper parents” out there and children’s lives are so structured that they have no idea how to just play and have no concept of how to use their imaginations, i my self sadly see this way too often as a child care provider, some how parents have gotten this idea that children will not grow and develop properly with out every minute of every day planned out by an adult for them, this could not be further from the truth as children need to be little explorers and i have personally seen them blossom and become so much more relaxed when they are allowed to play, and by play i do not mean video games, or structured activities and sporting events etc… i mean having the freedom to run, frolic, jump and laugh. go out and make forts, use just a plain old stick and turn it into incredible things, wrestle with their friends and invent fun new games. if parents would take a few giant steps back and loosen their death grips on their children’s lives they would be astonished and filled with pride and amazement at what their children really are capable of doing on their own. they are the future and if we hold their hands threw every minute of their lives they will have no idea how to be productive and functional adults.


    • Wow thanks for such an enthusiastic response and I am so sorry for not replying to you sooner! I totally agree with a lot of what you have said. I have put up another post about outdoor play in cold weather- what are your thoughts on this- do you think children should be allowed to play outside when the weather turns cold or do you think they should stay indoors? Your thoughts would be appreciated! Many thanks for taking the time to visit my blog!


  2. […] of learning. It make them feel so guilty and pressured when all their kids want to do is TO PLAY. ( When a 7 year old boy beats a 3 year old boy. He thinks it is right to do because "my teacher also […]


  3. I completely agree with you. Free play is so great. Free exploring sounds like something I would enjoy.


    • Thanks for your support and for reading my post! I have just posted another about outdoor play in colder weather- what are your thoughts on this- do you think it is ok for children to play outside when the weather gets colder- any feedback would be gratefully received. All the best. Emily


  4. Children (people all ages) are naturally curious. In my art classroom we celebrate discoveries and encourage exploration and problem solving. The curriculum is play based and open ended. I’m fortunate to work in a program that allow for this. Sadly I think much of what’s happening in schools is not based on what’s best for kids, but what is convenient to adults.


    • I have just been reading you blog and you are doing some amazing things! Yes I think the curriculum can be restrictive in many ways but there are many awesome teachers and organisations out there like yourself that celebrate curiosity and exploration. Hopefully this is an area of learning that is going to continue to grow and develop. Thanks for liking my blog!


  5. Wow! thanks for reading my blog too! I look forward to reading more about what you are doing in Scotland. I am on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.


  6. […] Tom’s  4/17/12 blog post about Teaching A Play Based Curriculum  and followed  a link to Is Free Play “Teaching?” from thenaturalplayground blog.  Both of these posts really inspired […]


  7. Inspired by your blog, I had my sculpture students make huts (primarily of recycled materials.) If you’d like to see the photos they are posted on my blog on my most recent post Huts to you!


  8. […] was thrilled to see Teacher Tom’s blog in response to this one from Emily at the natural playground this […]


  9. Great post – here is a video with the theme that “nobody is broke and nobody needs fixing,” and how we do not need evaluators rather, somebody to support progress.


    • Hi Ryan,
      Sorry not to reply sooner. Thanks for the video link. I watched it and it was very inspiring. I hope you keep in touch. I recently wrote an post on outdoor play in colder environments- what do you think? Should children be allowed to play outside even in cold whether- is it suppoting their progress or hindering it- your thoughts would be welcome. Emily


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: