The Importance of Unstructured Play

As parents, you know how important unstructured play is to the development of your child’s imagination. You know that, if given the chance, children can have wonderful imaginations. Give a child a large box and get out of their way, and before long they’ll be sailing in a boat, riding a stage coach, or defending a castle. Children who are read to, or who can read for themselves, can use the stories to fuel their imagination.

Since you know the importance of unstructured play, you’ll want to do everything you can to encourage it. Unlike watching television or playing console or computer games, unstructured play allows the child to use their imagination without rules or boundaries. They can imagine they can fly thus defying the laws of gravity, but in the same way learn that in reality they can’t.

The best place for children to play in an unstructured way is to send them outside. Since daily exercise will help combat childhood obesity and possibly help prevent diseases such as diabetes and heart disease later in life, encouraging time outside each day is important. Here are more reasons why unstructured play can be beneficial for your child:

* Playing incorporates every aspect of the child at least until they reach nine years of age.

* It allows the child to relax because they aren’t expected to follow the rules set forth by adults.

* Unstructured play can also help children express themselves emotionally or learn to handle conflict resolution.

* If allowed to play with other children, it can also teach them to empathize by learning to cooperate, solve problems, and understand things from another’s perspective.

* By allowing children to play in an unstructured way, particularly outdoors, it helps them become more independent and gain confidence that will serve them well as they grow.

While our inclination, as parents, may be to allow children to be involved in many activities outside of school – scouting, sports, band, etc. – these activities could be causing them more harm than good. By packing their days full of things to keep them occupied, we’re not allowing them the freedom to play in an unstructured manner.

Unstructured play can actually help your child’s brain development. It allows them, when play is child-driven, to take their time, discover their own abilities, and give play their all. On the contrary, when play is structured and controlled by adults, they may be more concerned with competing and winning rather than doing what they truly enjoy.

Of course, you’ll want to find a balance between structured and unstructured play. Let the children run and play outside so they can use their imagination but let them do so under your supervision. While you may not be able to let your children run around the neighborhood or to a nearby park like you were able to as a child, that doesn’t mean they have to be sequestered in the house until they’re an adult.

To encourage unstructured play, you may want to limit your child’s television viewing. Not only will television thwart your child’s imagination because everything is already planned out for them, it may also cause your child to learn to expect everything to be done for them.

If you buy your children board games and they don’t play them according to the rules, don’t despair. They are using their imagination and playing in an unstructured way.  It has often been said that a child’s job is to play. If that is so, playing in an unstructured manner will give them their greatest reward.

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