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Unstructured Play for Learning and Development

Author: Dylan Grow
by Dylan Grow
Posted: Mar 08, 2019

Unstructured play is shown to be vital for supporting a child’s learning and development. Free play enhances a child’s self-esteem, vocabulary and performance at school. Studies have proven that free play also has many health benefits for children.

What is Unstructured Play?

Play takes two different forms: unstructured play and structured play. While both are important during development, unstructured play has many benefits which support a child’s well being.

Structured play is a goal orientated type of play. It often involves problem solving and logic, such as organised sport, board games and following instructions to assemble toys. However unstructured play is the opposite. Unstructured play is a free type of play that is creative and open-ended. As you can see both types of play are important. Developing problem solving and logic skills are just as vital as creativity during childhood, however unstructured play has become less of a focus due to over our scheduled lives.

Unstructured play, or free play is open ended. There is no specific objective, or strategy; and is not directed by parents, teachers or other adults. Unstructured play is basically child-led; however, this doesn’t mean they are alone. Free play is also a great way to build social skills and even parents can join in.

Why Unstructured Play is Important

Unstructured play gives a child a sense of freedom and control. It allows them to learn about what they like and dislike, and provides the opportunity to learn from their mistakes without pressure. Unstructured play builds many important qualities in a child including: creativity, imagination and empathy. It helps them to learn how to "think outside the box" and develop problem solving skills which will benefit them in years to come.

How to Encourage Unstructured Play

Unfortunately, unstructured play has been declining since the 1950s. This is partly due to fears about leaving kids unsupervised and changing ideas about education. Many parents and teachers do recognise the importance of unstructured play, but struggle to allow it to happen naturally, and scheduling unstructured play defeats the purpose.

Cut back on scheduled activities: While it is beneficial to schedule some after school activities that your child enjoys, over scheduling can take away time and energy to enjoy free play. Research has shown that children who have over-organised schedules are more likely to develop anxiety or depression.

Supply open-ended toys: Free play doesn’t need much. The most basic toys are great for encouraging imagination. Blocks, dolls, art supplies; anything simple which doesn’t require rules. Encouraging unstructured play outside can also be simple by providing a safe playing area, for example kids climbing frames, skipping ropes or balls.

Let them get bored: Kids need to get bored and learn how to overcome it themselves. Boredom encourages free play, so instead of offering a solution when they become bored, let boredom happen and they will work it out.

Unstructured play is a great way to allow kids to explore their creativity and imaginations. With modern hectic schedules, allowing free play is vital for development and socialization. And climbing frames can be a great backyard addition to encourage outdoor unstructured play.

About the Author

Unstructured play is a great way to allow kids to explore their creativity and imaginations. With modern hectic schedules, allowing free play is vital for development and socialization.

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Author: Dylan Grow

Dylan Grow

Member since: Nov 27, 2018
Published articles: 5

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