The Importance of Self Directed Play in Toddlers

Consider the following things and how important they are in your life.

  • Successfully finishing a meeting and coming closer to winning the contract.
  • Having close buddies that you can trust with your life
  • Getting the best deal out of your interior decorator/land contractor or other similar expensive deals
  • Having a great relationship with your parents and siblings

The above pointers are largely broad generalizations, but I’m sure you understand the gist of it.


All of the above require skills that you learnt as a toddler and preschooler! It may be difficult to believe but all those hours you spent as toddler in pretend play and self directed play, also known as free play (without rules dictated by adults) were instrumental in your forming the judgment, control and negotiating powers you have today.

So how does self directed play help toddlers?

  1. Children get a chance to try out different roles: When left to their own devices, children make up stories where they can play any part they want. They could be the dog, cat, mother, neighbor or even a princess! They can choose whatever they want to be and feel how each role gives them different powers before they move on to other roles.
  2. Children can learn at their own pace: Because there are no rules, children can learn at their own pace and take their own time mastering or going through their feelings completely.
  3. Children feel in control: When pretend playing, children can be anything they want to be and feel more in control.
  4. Work through feelings: Children typically re-enact scenes that they were incapable of handling the first time. Eg. If they had a particularly trying moment when sharing their toys at a play date and the whole thing ended in a tug of war, later they get a chance to enact an alternate scenario where they are sharing toys and everything ends happily for everyone. It is a very powerful way for them to learn that each situation can have different results and they have the choice to choose the ending.
  5. Power to imagine: On a regular day when children don’t get a chance to imagine or re-imagine a scenario, self directed play nurtures their imagination and gives them a safe outlet to release and express their feelings.

Finally, imagination and creativity are important for everyone. Whether your child is the future scientist, doctor, musician or even a parent, he/she will need to learn how to let the imagination flow and get new ideas into their head. This is something that games with rules seldom allow. So let your children play freely, because as Albert Einstein said, “Play is the most powerful form of research”