The Importance of Unstructured Free Play

Jan 30, 2020 | Read time: 6 mins

Jan 30, 2020 | Read time:
preschool daycare unstructured play

Why unstructured play is important to child development?

Do you remember climbing trees and splashing around in muddy puddles with no one stopping you? When was the last time that you told our little ones to go out and play in the sun with other children without an adult to actively supervise or set rules?

We live in a day and time, where we are so focused on making our children learn new things fast, and to keep them busy at all times, that we often tend to miss out on the simple pleasures in life. In the digital era that we live in, where all sources of entertainment are available at a click of a single button, and where we are spoiled for options, we sometimes get so focused on a systematic and structured routine for our children, that we forget all about just letting them play on their own.

A great way to ensure that your child ignites their imagination and is curious at all times is to encourage them to engage in play that is completely unstructured and without any kind of rules. Voluntary, unplanned and arising out of the fact that children are born curious, unstructured play or free play as it is also known as is the way to go.

When a child engages in unstructured free play with a group of children of different age groups, he or she explores the world around them in their very own way.

According to Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College, and author of Free to Learn “play serves many valuable purposes. It is a means by which children develop their physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and moral capacities. It is also a means of creating and preserving friendships as it provides a state of mind that, in adults as well as children, is uniquely suited for high-level reasoning, insightful problem solving, and all sorts of creative endeavors.”

In Dr Gray’s words here is how you will define a free play activity:

  • Play is serious yet fun. It is imaginative yet serves as a practice for the real world. It is childish but it underlies the most underlying accomplishments of the individual. It is nature’s way of ensuring that young mammals practice the skills that they need to live their life happily. Children learn abstract thinking only when they play with other children. They learn how to get along with other children, to negotiate as well as solve disputes on their own without adult intervention.
  • Play is self-chosen and self-directed and the most important thing in play is the freedom to play and the freedom to quit play at any point of time.
  • Play is not associated with rewards. It’s the means that is more important than the ends. In fact, research has shown that if children are rewarded after play, they tend to lose interest.
  • Play is guided by mental rules, rules that are not made by adults, but by children themselves. The unstructured play still means that the child has a certain structure to it. It is a way for children to exercise their imaginative abilities.
  • Play is trivial, because of which it is more powerful. Because it doesn’t count and because you are not being evaluated, play encourages children to feel free to try. 

How does this kind of play help in your child’s development?

Raise a confident child through free play:

Free play involves children meeting new children and making new friends. This, in turn, helps enhance their social skills as they start interacting with others, sharing their toys and solving problems in their own way.

Ignite imagination:

One form of free play is pretending to play or role-play. Children love to pretend and along the way make up their own stories as they enact different roles. Whether it is pretending to be a fireman rescuing people from a blazing fire, or a teacher teaching little children or pretending to be a doctor saving a person’s life, pretend play as a form of free play ignites a child’s imagination and nurtures their creativity.

The key to healthy brain development:

The early years of a child are crucial when it comes to brain development. When we provide a child with the right environment and stimulation, we are contributing to their social, cognitive and physical development. The right environment doesn’t only mean teaching them through a structured curriculum. It also includes unstructured play, where children learn how to practice the skills that they have learnt and engage in abstract thinking allowing them to be curious and explore the world around them.

Free play encourages a child’s ability to solve problems:

When children engage in free play, they are exposed to various scenarios that encourage them to solve problems and resolve conflicts through conversation with their friends. Free play should be a time when adults should take a set back and allow children to make their own decisions and learn from their own mistakes.

At KLAY, we understand the importance of unstructured and free play and inculcate it in the child’s daily schedule. The KLAY curriculum is crafted in such a way so as to give every child free playtime where they are free to work on any material or do anything that they want, the time where they are only supervised by adults and not instructed on what and how to play.

From the specialized learning zones to the everyday free playtime that the child engages in during the day as well as before they go back home, to the various events that we organize, at KLAY, we believe that free play is crucial for every child as it encourages them to be curious and explore. Our Mega Art event, greatly looked forward to by our little ones, also encourages the child to get their hands dirty, as they play around and experiment with colours without being guided by an adult.

At the end of the day, amazing things happen when children are encouraged to engage in unstructured play. As parents, it is important for us to schedule at least 30 minutes to 1 hour of free play in their daily routines for when our children play, they get transformed into independent, confident, spirited and happy children with a constant quest for adventure.  Play is after all the highest form of research; don’t you think?

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