How To Balance Structured & Unstructured Play

Children love to play! Agree?

But do you know how important play is in your child’s life?

Well, play is far more important than most parents realize.

It’s actually the key to learning. Researchers have found that play can help enrich learning and develop important skills such as inquiry, expression, experimentation, and so on.

From peek-a-boo to hide-and-seek and scrabble to hopscotch, the many forms of play improve a child’s life in so many different ways. Let’s see how.

Benefits Of Play

– Through play, kids learn, explore, master new skills, develop new ideas, gain knowledge about the world around them and so on.

Play

– Play can improve a child’s ability to plan, organise, get along with others, and regulate their emotions.

– In addition, play helps with language, math, and social skills, and even helps kids to cope with stress.

In general, play can take two different forms: Structured play and unstructured play. Both have unique benefits and are equally important for a child’s growth and development.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the difference between structured and unstructured play and their benefits.

Come on, let’s dive in!

What Is Structured Play?

In simple terms, structured play provides kids with a specific learning objective. These activities, which can be either indoor or outdoor, occur at a specific time and place and are generally instructor-led.

A parent, teacher or trusted adult helps the child either meet their goals or reviews the learning objective.

So how is structured play important for kids?

Let’s take a look:

Benefits Of Structured Play

Teaches Teamwork

Structured play teaches kids how to respect the abilities and opinions of other individuals, exchange ideas, and put themselves aside in favour of the greater good and the team.

Example: A big puzzle with many elements needs good coordination from a team to put together. By doing this your child will have the chance to communicate with other team members.

Reinforces Bonding

By engaging in instructor-led structured play, children learn to instil trust in people who care about them. It also allows for social interaction.

Example: Organised activities like a group dance reinforces bonding and also teaches them how to work as a team.

Boosts Listening Skills

Swimming

Good listening skills facilitate effective communication throughout life. Listening to instructions and following directions help children to boost their listening skills.

Example: Getting your little one to a swimming pool for swimming lessons will make them listen and follow the instructions in a more organised way.

Develops Movement Skills

A range of structured activities help children develop the below movement skills:

  • Agility- Moving quickly and easily
  • Balance- Staying steady while moving
  • Coordination- Using different parts of the body together
  • Speed- The ability to move quickly

Example: Activities like throwing, catching, kicking or bouncing a ball help kids coordinate their movements and they learn to follow instructions too.

Gets Introduced To New Things

Structured play allows parents to expose kids to a variety of activities that they may not discover on their own and might miss out. You can get creative with their little one and incorporate play into your family’s everyday activities and chores.

Example: Involve your child in household chores such as laundry. Teach them how to identify and sort one family member’s clothes from another.

What Is Unstructured Play?

In unstructured play, children engage in open-ended activities that have no specific learning objectives. The activities are not instructor-led — hence parents, teachers or other adults do not give any directions or guidelines to the child. Unstructured play is also called as “free play” and “self-play”. However, unstructured play doesn’t necessarily mean a child plays alone. Play partners can take part in unstructured play with the child. Unstructured activities can also be played either indoors or outdoors.

So how is unstructured play important for kids?

Let’s take a look:

Benefits Of Unstructured Play

Sparks Creativity And Imagination

As there are no fixed rules or guidelines, unstructured play allows children to explore, try out new ideas and use their imagination. This sparks their creativity, which helps children excel in the future.

Example: Playing with dough or clay, drawing and painting pictures, etc can encourage creativity and imagination.

Promotes Decision-Making Skills

When children engage in self-play, they have a lot of decisions to make. Whether they are playing alone or with a friend or family member, the important steps in the play process are figuring out what to do and how to do it. When children take up the responsibility of making these big decisions, it builds strong relationship skills in them.

Example: Pretend play activities where children come up with new ideas and at the same time learn to make choices.

Increases Resiliency

Unstructured Play

In unstructured play, children create scenarios, rules, what works and what doesn’t work and adapt accordingly. This increases their resilience, and they also learn the value of becoming more independent and self-assured.

Example: Children create imaginary games, rules and adapt accordingly.

Enhances Social Skills

When it comes to self-play, children learn to negotiate, take turns, cooperate, care and advocate for themselves. It also gives them opportunities to observe, respond, and adapt to ever-changing social situations. Playing with peer groups encourages them to share, wait for their turn or at times even negotiate, which in turn enhances their social skills.

Example: During sand play, children dig, sieve, build and explore with the sand, having endless fun.

Improves Problem-Solving Skills

The unstructured play presents children with unique opportunities to encounter and solve problems. It further helps kids conquer their fears and build their confidence.

Example: Playing with a ball. Children work together to solve problems, like who takes the first turn in a game and establishing other rules of play.

Now that we have taken a look at the two forms of play, here’s an important tip for you- Both types of play are essential for a child’s well being – it’s all about finding the right balance so they are able to develop both types of skills. If you feel that your child is becoming less involved in one type of play, then all you have to do is, switch to the other type to strike a balance.

Tips To Find A Balance Between Structured & Unstructured Play

– Give kids the time to engage in free play
– Look for outdoor play opportunity
– Encourage kids to use their imagination
– Set limits on screen time
– Look for a variety of structured activities for your child
– Provide new ideas and learning opportunities

Now if you’re wondering what type of preschool to enrol your child in, we have an important tip for you!
When choosing preschools, make sure your look for those that include both structured and unstructured playtime. And Flintoclass@HOME learning program does exactly this!

Why Flintoclass Preschools?

Flintoclass learning program provide the right balance between structured and unstructured playtime. The activities are designed to aid the overall development of each child that includes cognitive, language, social, emotional, and physical areas of development. Flintoclass learning program also follows a child-centric approach that fosters independent thinking, conceptual understanding & creative learning. In fact, a recent survey shows that 96% of parents feel that their children are happier and excited to continue learning with the Flintoclass@HOME learning program.
For more information, visit flintoclass.com

Watch why Emma, an educator, and mom recommends the Flintoclass@HOME program!

Conclusion

It’s important to remember that both structured and unstructured activities are necessary for kids. There should be a balance of both, where structure provides rules, discipline, and continuity, and unstructured play provides freedom and sparks imagination & creativity. Giving kids plenty of opportunities to play is one of the best ways to help them grow into happy and creative adults in the future.

Karen loves exploring places and meeting new people. During free time, you're very likely to see her sitting in a corner and getting lost in a book. She is now working as a child development expert at Flinto R&D Centre.

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