Today’s kids are immersed in a laundry list of activities and classes before they reach school age. As a parent, you want to give your child the best advantage in life possible. However, over-scheduling and over-stimulating your child may hinder his intelligence rather than help him.

Free play is critical to your child’s development. Many of the world’s most significant discoveries occurred during relaxed states.

Albert Einstein reportedly came up with the theory of relativity when daydreaming while doing repetitive work at a patent office. James Watson claims his sudden insight during a good night’s sleep led to the discovery of the double helix, our DNA. Isaac Newton is said to have developed his theory of gravity after seeing an apple fall from a tree while lounging in his mother’s garden.

Our natural state is peaceful, and we distract ourselves from our distractions by calming our minds. This helps us organize our environment to allow creativity to blossom.

Therefore, you must give your child time to access his natural state and find his gifts.

While your child is young, you should provide free play opportunities in safe, print- and material-rich environments. These environments help foster elements of observation, manipulation, communication, and creativity.

By age four, your child’s brain is 50% developed; by the teenage years, 80% of his brain is developed. Instead of constantly ensuring your child is “doing something productive,” give him time to be himself…and watch how he uses that time.

At least once each day, set aside free play time for your child.

Here are some ideas for incorporating free play into your family life:

If you have a baby or toddler at home:

  • Give your baby or toddler a safe space that is confined & secure. Let him explore the playroom, for instance, while you are nearby reading a book.
  • Before giving your baby or toddler free play time, remove potentially dangerous items such as hot tea and coffee, knives, and other sharp objects from the area.

If you have a tween or teen at home:

  • Allow him an allotted amount of time outside of homework, after-school activities, and hanging out with friends – 30 minutes or 1 hour – when electronics are off and you are nearby.
  • Ensure your child has plenty of tools – such as paper, pens, pencils, journals, books, paint supplies, gardening, cooking supplies, arts and crafts, and other non-electronic activities that he can choose from.

You can start with one of these practices at a time, starting with one that best suits your family structure and schedule.

Once your family has incorporated one or more of these practices regularly into the family routine, take note of any differences:

  • Is your child able to focus more?
  • Does your child seem more relaxed and happy?
  • Is your child able to create some unique artwork or come to any fantastic discoveries during free play?

I am betting that you will see a difference, and your child will also feel the difference.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.