Free Play (in more ways than one!)

Today is National Playday here in the UK and we couldn’t resist the urge to have a bit of a think about play in all its importance and glory! We’ve written a lot about play here at The Outdoors Group, from its importance in early years and childhood, the benefits of it, what it can look like, play ideas, and its therapeutic value when a Play Therapist gets involved. This time however, we’re leaning into this year’s theme for Playday – ‘playing on a shoestring’.

The folk at Playday (a joint effort by Play England, Play Wales, Play Scotland, Playbord Northern Ireland and a national steering group) expand: “This year’s theme focuses on the everyday low-cost or no-cost play adventures that children can enjoy at home, in settings, and in our communities.” So we thought we’d come up with five different ways that children can play for free and some ideas about how to facilitate these for the young people in your life. Hopefully as you look ahead at a month of no school (for many of you), this will also serve to be a useful resource for those looking for free things for the kids to do this summer!

Take Back The Streets

Sometimes, half the battle is getting kids out of the house and this one eases them into it by literally stepping just outside the front door! There is so much playing that can be done from the streets right where we live; give them some chalk for hopscotch (or as we saw on our estate in lockdown, fantastical 2D obstacle courses!), a football to kick about on a local green space, a bubble wand (sounds silly but you’ll be surprised by how much kids of all ages like blowing bubbles!) dig out their scooters and bikes, head to the local playpark. Before you know it, they’ll be meeting their friends outside or making new ones, running in and out of the house and having a blast!

Junk Modelling

But what if the British summertime fails us and gale force winds and sideways rain drives us inside? Then my friends, simply raid your (clean) recycling containers for a spot of junk modelling. Why not create an invitation to play with a variety of empty containers and bits of card, scissors, glue, tape, pens (and if you’re feeling particularly brave – paint!) and let their imagination go wild! This one is a fantastic option to feed their creativity as they make fantastical creations that our old adult brains will be amazed at! Bonus points if they make something they can use with other toys they already have (a race track, a house for their lego people, a monster to terrorise their soft toys)…

Nature Explorers

Save *some* of those containers though and then you’ve got a free bug hunt or rockpooling kit ready to go for when the rain dies down and you want to get outside! Simply poke some holes in the lid of whatever tub you’re using and head out for your adventure! Why not see what beasties or flowers you can find in your local park or if you venture to the coast to explore the beaches, see what shells, pebbles and seaweed you can find? If you’re feeling particularly energetic, you can take this one step further and set the kids a challenge – find something from each colour of the rainbow or only find things of a certain shape or that start with a certain letter.

Time To Get Wet!

It seems to be a universally acknowledged truth that nearly all children love to get wet! Instead of trying to keep them dry this summer why not encourage this by packing towels and costumes or spare clothes whenever you know you’re going somewhere where they might get wet? Whether you’re heading to a playground with a water play section, walking by the river, taking a trip to the beach or simply getting out in the rain – embrace the joy of splashing, submerging and swimming this summer.

Den Building

We wouldn’t be an outdoor education company if we didn’t suggest a spot of den building as a free, fun activity for kids! Whether this is inside with furniture, blankets and cushions our in the woods with branches, leaves and ferns – kids can’t resist making themselves a hideout, secret bunker, or quiet play space when given the chance! And to be fair, who can blame them? I’ve seen some pretty inviting dens in my time…

So there you have it, in honour of National Playday, a handful of play and activity ideas that you can do with the kids this summer for free! If you have any ideas for low or no cost play ideas that you’d like to share, please do leave them in the comments – we’d love to hear from you! But for now, Happy Playday folks!

Author: Hannah Durdin, Forest School Leader & Content Officer

Date: Wednesday 2nd August 2023

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