Freedom to Play: the Best Education

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There is no doubt that free play is fun, but parents might not realize just how important play is. In a time where youth have highly structured schedules throughout the day, ensuring that boys have enough time to play is of growing importance. Free play isn’t just a time to relax or have fun; encouraging boys to play will help with social development, motor skills, cognitive skills, and physical health. Play can allow practice in creative thinking, understanding social cues, communicating ideas, testing coordination, and self-regulating. A 2014 article in The Atlantic ( describes how free play is the best summer school, enhancing boys “ability to work productively towards self directed goals.” Improving self-direction helps with independence, giving boys that edge to succeed when they are back in the classroom.

Tommy is all smiles on the Lower Green!Tommy is all smiles on the Lower Green!

Choice, wonder, and delight. These are the three indicators of playful learning narrowed down by a 2018 article from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Summertime, Playtime ( At Falling Creek, we strive to allow boys to have freedom of choice in their activities, find joy in their time at camp, and encourage wonder and curiosity about our natural surroundings. Though we take pride in our highly structured activity progression system, those five levels of progression are not the only time that boys can grow and challenge themselves. Every day we have two designated “free time” blocks, where you can choose how you want to spend your time. Setting aside this time for free play is intentional, since these unstructured times without any set goals or motives can often be the most educational time of all.

bluebird day on Lake Summit!bluebird day on Lake Summit!

During Free Time, boys can play solo or with friends, actively run around or quietly fish in the lake, creatively draw pictures or strategically build the best fort, splash around in the creeks or read a book at the library – the options are limitless. Under the Dining Hall is one of the most popular places in camp to spend Free Time. With foosball, ping pong, carpetball, four square, or warrior ball, it’s a gamer’s paradise. At lunch I asked Simon, “did you do anything cool today?” “Yeah! I beat a bunch of counselors at carpetball during Free Time!” he responded enthusiastically. Getting to choose how to spend a big chunk of your day is often a novel concept for boys today. Most of our campers usually follow a strict class schedule at school, followed by sports practice, music lessons, or something similar, and then homework before bed. Having the freedom to move as slowly or run as quickly as they want is refreshing for them, not to mention how beneficial play is to their development.

shocktaw! Riding the trails in Pisgah.shocktaw! Riding the trails in Pisgah.

This afternoon, Roy and Mason were returning from their Tsali overnight mountain bike trip with huge smiles on their faces. “It was awesome, the mountain bike counselors are the coolest!” They had both already chosen to sign up for the next mountain bike trip in Pisgah, continuing to progress and challenge themselves. During free time, they even chose to head back to Moab to work on bike maintenance. It was clear that mountain biking gave them delight, but the ability to choose their activities continued to give them wonder, especially since they could have the freedom to challenge themselves at their own rate.

sliding catch at flag football!sliding catch at flag football!

Highlights of today’s excitement include:

-Biscuit breakfast! With eggs, yogurt, sausage gravy, and grits
-Tuesday means Green and Gold day, another fun chance to earn team points
-Quentin B. and William M. earned Ranger in Archery!
-It was Taco Tuesday for lunch – ground beef, taco toppings, cowboy caviar, fruit salad, and churros for dessert
-Cabin 3 was the cleanest table in camp
-Dinner was sliced turkey and gravy, mashed sweet potatoes, salad, and believe it or not, the roasted brussel sprouts were a hit!
-Yancey S. earned Ranger in Ultimate Frisbee!
-Evening Program was a series of rotations among tribes to earn Green and Gold points. Cherokee played pickle ball, shoe ball, and “steal the bacon”. Catawba was fort building, trying to build the coolest forts. Tuscarora was on the field playing kickball and soccer, while Iroquois played basketball and flag football at the gym. Each game was worth 25 points for either team!

No matter how boys choose to spend their day at camp, the important thing is that they have the ability to play, enjoying unstructured freedom to just be boys. We’re looking forward to another day of choice, wonder, and delight tomorrow!

-Annie Pharr

Friends on the fieldFriends on the field