When we were younger, we were often told to go and play in the backyard and entertain ourselves; as we have grown up, we have become more acutely involved in our child’s lives. We want to provide them with the best start we can and support them in their learning. One misconception when it comes to giving them the best start is that we have to schedule everything, when in fact, unstructured play (like those times we were told to go outside) is one of the most beneficial ways to help your child develop. While young children require more supervision, it doesn’t mean that we can’t encourage our children to play outside and make up their own games.

What is Unstructured Play?

The most common definition of unstructured play is that it is improvised and child-led. Unstructured play allows children the freedom to explore, create, experiment and discover new things in the world around them. It supports their curiosity and helps them make sense of their surroundings. At Child’s Play, our curriculum and environment supports unstructured play as we believe it creates the best life-long learners.

9 Benefits to Unstructured Play

There are many benefits to unstructured play; here are just a few:

  • Creativity

With the freedom to play, your child will become more creative and begin to think outside of the box. It might get messy, but they will begin to use their imagination to create their own games and visualise stories, using their imagination.

  • Problem Solving

In their own games and unstructured play, children will face challenges like who should take the first turn, and it is in these scenarios where they begin to establish rules and work through everyday problems. Problem-solving is a key skill that helps develop critical thinking and improve cognitive development in children.

  • Social Skills

One of the biggest things unstructured play promotes is teamwork and communication. Your child’s play will develop scenarios where your child will learn how to ask questions, listen and share their experiences. But more importantly, it will encourage your child to make friends with other children.

  • Provides Opportunity

In structured activities, your child is exposed to skills and processes that will help them develop. In unstructured play, your child has the opportunity to master those skills and further improve their development.

  • Builds Motor Function

Children have lots of energy, but they also require lots more movement time than adults to develop motor skills such as walking, grabbing a water bottle, bouncing a ball and holding a pen. Unstructured play gives them the freedom to develop these skills and understand their movements. It also reduces the likelihood of childhood obesity and improves cardiovascular health.

  • Emotional Development

Unstructured play provides your child with challenges where they can push themselves and learn how to control motor functions. Behind the scenes, these activities also help your child develop self-confidence and determination to keep trying. It improves their emotional state by allowing them to learn how to self-regulate their responses and associate certain challenges with positive interactions and experiences.

  • Builds Resilience

Things won’t always go the way your child would want them to, but unstructured play provides them with a space to experience this feeling in a safe and comforted environment. Things not working out allows your child to develop resilience and promotes perseverance and problem-solving.

  • Develops Negotiation and Decision Making Skills

As mentioned above, unstructured play generally encourages teamwork. Within a team or small group, your child will learn how to negotiate to get what they want, make compromises and develop decision-making skills that will assist them in structured play. These skills are important as they also assist in emotional development and cognitive reasoning to help your child develop an awareness of other people’s feelings.

  • Eliminates Boredom

Unstructured play promotes imagination, and after a few tries at it, it will eliminate your child’s feelings of boredom. This is because unstructured play acts as a vehicle for enhancing inventiveness, imagination and improving your child’s happiness through play.

The Biggest Challenge

One of the biggest challenges as to why many parents don’t prioritise unstructured play is because they have a busy family life, so there is not much free time. They may have more than one child, multiple extracurricular activities or be working full time. Often the result of this is that they try and make a routine for everything and forget that children are curious and often won’t stick to a rigorous day of routine.

How can we encourage unstructured play?

Breaking routines and cutting back on activities can seem daunting and may give you some FOMO but here are just a few ways we can encourage unstructured play with our children.

Hint: it’s even better if you get involved with them too. 

  • Get outside and explore new environments.
  • Limit screen time.
  • Have a box full of odd things that they can make stuff out of when they get bored.
  • Let them get messy.
  • Let them take some tumbles.
  • Say yes to the likes of cooking, jumping in puddles and making daisy chains.
  • Invite friends for a play date.

How can Child’s Play help?

We provide your children with an indoor-outdoor environment that research shows assists in unstructured play. Our educators are well-versed in participating and supervising unstructured play and can give you some helpful hints and tips. We are community-driven early childhood education centres, and we want to make sure you make the most of your free time. If you have any questions on unstructured play, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team.