As parents, we want the best for our children. We expose them to multiple opportunities to realize their full potential. And in the bargain, we forget about the most precious part of childhood – the joy of having fun and playing in a completely unstructured manner.
As parents, we want the best for our children. We want them to excel physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. We want to expose them to multiple opportunities to realize their full potential. And we do this by filling up our child’s days with varied activities that cover the whole gamut of physical and mental development.
And in the bargain, we forget about the most precious part of childhood – the joy of having fun and playing in a completely unstructured manner.
Unstructured play vs. Structured play
Unstructured play, or free play, refers to play a child undertakes himself or herself and which is self-directed and an end in itself, rather than part of some organized activity (Peter Gray, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology (emeritus) at Boston College).
Structured play has a set of rules with specific objectives. Most games fall under the category of structured play: card games, board games and classic outdoor games like tag are all structured activities. So is following directions to assemble a toy, model airplane or Lego theme set. Organized sports—soccer, hockey, tennis, etc.—are all examples of structured activities.
Unstructured play is open-ended with unlimited possibilities. Playing with blocks is unstructured play. So is coloring, drawing or painting on a blank paper. Deciding how to play with a toy airplane or doll is unstructured play. Inventing games to play is unstructured activity. So is running around the playground or park.
Gray describes this kind of unstructured, freely-chosen play as a testing ground for life and mentions five main benefits:
1. Play gives children a chance to find and develop a connection to their own self-identified and self-guided interests
2. It is through play that children first learn how to make decisions, solve problems, exert self-control, and follow rules
3. Children learn to handle their emotions, including anger and fear, during play
4. Play helps children make friends and learn to get along with each other as equals
5. Most importantly, play is a source of happiness and stress-relief
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says Play is essential to development as it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them.
Here are some ideas on how we can incorporate more play time into our children’s schedule:
1. Ensure that classes don’t eat up all your child’s free time
2. Organize playdates but leave them alone to decide their own play activities
3. Provide your child with suitable play materials, adequate play space and time for play
4. Change your mind-set that children are not wasting their time by playing
5. Practice letting your child be bored
And above all, let’s remember that Play is the Serious Work of a Child!