Importance of Unstructured Play Time

Do you remember the endless hours of play you used to have as a kid? Do you afford your kid the same time of play?

Back in the day, kids met in some backyard and formed a pretend family. Others played pirates, tried catching butterflies or played football using a soccer ball. But nowadays, parents are so cautious that they supervise all hours of play time. However, psychologists have found that the unstructured, open-ended play is important for brain development.

Structured versus unstructured play

In structured play, there is at least one adult who is the leader, and a set of rules which govern how the game should proceed. Here, we are talking about sports and board games such as checkers.

Unstructured play, on the other hand, is child-directed. The child improvises the rules of the game.

So, structured play has set rules and structure, while in unstructured play kids determine the rules and the purpose of the game.

For example, building an imaginary city using blocks is unstructured play, but following directions to build a part of New York city is structured play.

The importance of unstructured play

Unstructured play promotes healthy brain development in children. These are some of the reasons it is important:

It encourages physical activity

The structured play-time kids get at school only affords them 20-30 minutes of physical activity. However, to maintain a healthy and fit body, kids need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity. By allowing them unstructured play at home and with other kids in the neighborhood, the 60-minutes mark of physical activity can be reached.

It enhances social skills

During unstructured play, children learn to interact with each other. They collaborate to achieve certain goals, thereby learning teamwork and cooperation, while acquiring friendship skills. When there are disagreements, they practice their self-advocacy skills and learn problem-solving. All these are social skills they will need later in life.

It improves decision making and creativity

In the unstructured play, children must decide the direction the play is going to take. In a group, one of them should make the decision, while considering the input of the others – leadership skills. If the child is playing alone, they have to be very creative so that the game can remain interesting.

Helps identify a child’s interests

Unstructured play has no specific goal. Therefore, the child is under no pressure or stress of failing. So, in this category of play, children engage in activities at their own pace, giving them a chance to discover their interests and passions.

Unstructured does not mean unsupervised

That it is child-led does not mean parents cannot get involved. For safety purposes, parents should supervise, not lead, unstructured play – especially when the kids involved are preschoolers. Let the kids set the direction of the play. All you need to do is to watch from a distance and resist the urge to intervene unnecessarily.

Indeed, unstructured play is important to a child’s development. As many people put it, let a kid be a kid. By denying them unstructured play, you are robbing them of the chance to develop their creativity, social and decision-making skills.

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