kids discover activities and learn on their own through free play

Making Time for Play

“Self-education through play and exploration requires enormous amounts of unscheduled time—time to do whatever one wants to do, without pressure, judgment, or intrusion from authority figures. That time is needed to make friends, play with ideas and materials, experience and overcome boredom, learn from one’s own mistakes, and develop passions.”
― Peter Gray, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life (affiliate link)

Peter Gray’s book kick-started my desire to approach our own homeschooling experiences in an authentic, engaging way. Since then, I’ve read more than a dozen similar books (you can see them on My Bookshelf) that have inspired me to create environments and resources that provide positive, optimized learning and growth opportunities. I love being a part of my children’s lives, watching them play, explore, learn, and grow. I’m thankful for the chance to see life again through the eyes of a child.

Learning Through Play

Although we are weaving plenty of learning moments through the fabric of our homeschooling days, we place a high value on the importance of play. Usually the boys are perfectly content to play with few props — they are just as happy playing with sticks and rocks outside as playing with legos inside. Trips to the park, play dates with friends, and long car rides to Grandpa and Grandma’s house all provide simple, uncluttered time and space for the kids to use their imagination as they learn to play happily and be good companions for each other.

But sometimes we kick things up a notch and take them to a children’s museum. We discovered these magical places after having our first baby, and we’ve bought yearly memberships ever since.

We took the boys to a nearby children’s museum recently, which is basically a “hu-normeous” (as my 4 y.o. calls it) building full of toys and activities for kids. Our membership gets us 50% off several children’s museums in the network, so we occasionally do day trips to neighboring cities to check out their wonderland of play structures. This year we bought memberships passes to the zoo and the children’s museum, and between those two we have access to unlimited entertainment for the boys — well worth the price! 🙂

I was sitting on a bench watching the boys hard at play — which for their age means hard at work 🙂 — and appreciating the novelty of a new variety of activities and friends for the boys. I find myself inevitably tempted to buy All The Things from the gift stores at places like this, thinking I could re-create this experience at home, but luckily I usually realize that most of the magic comes from being OUT of the house and with friends (loosely defined as anyone willing to play with you) so I refrain from buying (too much) stuff.

Simple Fun

And besides, often times the happiest moments come from accidental discoveries like these:

young boy at play painting on rocks with water

While all the other kids were busy building forts and playing in water tables, J wandered over to this rock with a divot that had collected water. Someone (probably a staff member) had left out an old paintbrush and J picked it up and started dipping it in the puddle and “water painting” on another rock.

Ha! Why had I never thought of that?! No prep work needed, almost no supplies, no mess to clean up, and endless directions to pursue — use a paintbrush, sponges, roll toy cars through water, make water paint footprints and handprints, practice calligraphy, draw Anything you can think of, even do math on the sidewalk! … etc. Here’s an activity we could do at home any day for FREE (1 point!) that’s clean (2 points!) and fun (3 points!). (Points are nonredeemable but fun to collect.)

So that was my little “Aha! moment” for the day — in the end, you really don’t need fancy memberships or museum gift shop toys — a little imagination and an old paintbrush goes a long way. 🙂

Old-Fashioned Days

And, while I’m on the topic of the children’s museum … I had a cute conversation with big brother.

wp-image-519866617.jpgN and I were playing in the food area which was set up like a 1915 grocery market. He pointed out a jar of marbles (meant to be gumdrops) and something that looked like little wood blocks wrapped in old candy wrappers.

N: “Mommy, what are these?”

Me: “They’re just trying to show you what candy was like in the old fashioned days.”

N, horrified: “Pretend?!”

Lol! He was so serious and looked really surprised, probably feeling sorry for the “old-fashioned people.”

I assured him that they had real candy, just probably not as much as we do today.


I’m thankful for the little moments we get to spend with our children, seeing and discovering life with them through their eyes. <3

As always, I’d love to hear anything from you all in the comments — what simple, fun, free, and clean activities have you found to do with your kids? Or what cute conversations have you had while trying to explain things to your kids?


Here’s another quote I love from Free to Learn (Affiliate link below):

“Perhaps play would be more respected if we called it something like “self-motivated practice of life skills,” but that would remove the lightheartedness form it and thereby reduce its effectiveness. So, we are stuck with the paradox. We must accept play’s triviality in order to realize its profundity.” p. 156


More Learning Resources for Your Family

If you’d like to visit my store to see my library of learning resources focused on math for Pre-K through Geometry, you can check it out here: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Sandra-Balisky