Also known as free play, unstructured play is an important aspect of a child's overall development.
Over the years children are spending less time outdoors and more time as part of an organised activity such as Gaelic, music and dance classes, while others are spending an unhealthy amount of their free time playing with electronic entertainment.
As parents, we naturally focus on opening as many doors as we can for our children in the hope of success filling their days from beginning to end with competitive extracurricular activities but have you ever taken a step back and thought about what you are really achieving?
What is unstructured play?
Also known as free play, unstructured play is an important aspect of a child's overall development. It is a type of play with no set goals with the aim of instilling curiosity and creativity in children from a young age. It allows kids to be kids and just play and discover with no predetermined rules or guidelines. It means parents, teachers and caregivers take a step back and watch from a safe distance.
What are the benefits of unstructured play?
Free play is vital for a child's overall well being and has been proven to boost physical, social and emotional development.
Other benefits include:
- With no fixed rules to follow, it sparks creativity and imagination which is essential for healthy cognitive development.
- Allowing young children to play freely, it helps them work together as a team to enhance problem-solving and decision-making skills such as who takes the turn first.
- It encourages social skills while learning to communicate, listen and share with others in a relaxed environment.
- It builds gross motor skills, strength and coordination while learning to catch, throw, climb and gives little ones a chance to be active and fit on their own terms.
- It encourages self-regulation. Taking a step back and allowing your child to identify and manage potentially risky situations will allow them to become more aware of themselves and their surroundings.
- Free play stimulates the senses by invoking a sense of wonder and respect for the world around them.
- It allows them to take a step back and discover their own hidden talents and interests.
- Unstructured play also helps builds self-esteem, confidence and self-determination and puts them in charge of their own happiness.
How Can I Encourage Unstructured Play?
Unstructured play can happen anywhere however being outdoors will offer more opportunities to play with leaves, sticks, stones, rocks and mud. By playing outside it gives young children more freedom to explore, be creative and learn from their own mistakes and experiences.
Other ways to encourage unstructured playtime include limiting screen time, messy play and creation stations where you give them odds, ends and stick of glue and say yes next time they ask can they jump in the puddle.
As a mother who said no for many years, I promise you not only will it bring you joy watching your kids prance about in puddles - your kids will have the time of their lives.