We talked about how unstructured play is on the decrease in last week's blog, so in today's blog we are going to talk about the importance of unstructured play and how every parent should pay attention on how to incorporate more unstructured play at home.
I grew up with plenty of PLAY – especially unstructured play. The demand of our school studies was high; however, we were not restricted and had time for free play. Sure we all had our chores before and after school, but with FREE play waiting for us daily, nothing could be a better motivator than this.
Free play or unstructured play is open-ended play, where children are allowed to play without any rules, and have no restrictions and no boundaries of what they can create. There are no instructions given my adults or teachers or anyone, and no strategies behind the game. It is up to the players to set their own rules, ideas and the how-to's.
I remember my friends and I used to use leaves from the tree and rub them against rocks, then add water to that and it would turn to a green liquid. We then used that as medicine – where we played doctors and patients. After that we would add red flowers, white flowers, and yellow flowers and rub them against the bricks, and finally add water. As a result we had a different coloured mix of medicine… sometimes we added the red liquid to someone's hands or legs to substitute that for blood oozing out of the limbs from accidents. After that we would create an ambulance, and play nurses and doctors to help the patients… and so on.
What did we learn from this play?
Decision making – Who is going to be the doctor, nurse or patient? Who is the driver of the ambulance?
Creativity – ideas on how to make the medicine, other than rubbing them off the brick?
How to get along – With quite a few people playing together, someone has to be the leader. So who is the leader of the group and making sure everyone has a fair go and the play runs smoothly?
Being flexible – When we had disagreement with our play structure, we would try new things, new sets of "rules" and gave it a go. So we learned to listen and be flexible and willing to work as a team to make the play a success.
Why is unstructured play so important for their overall development?
It gives the children a sense of freedom, a sense of being themselves, and have a better understanding of who they are, what they like or don't like, and how to get along with other children. Unstructured play has complete freedom for trial and error, with all the creative adventures without the pressure and worry of being right or wrong, i.e. rules of both parents, adults and structured games.
These skills are so important when building their characters, learning to set their boundaries and instilling self esteem in growing children. They learn to be flexible as well; they learn to negotiate, listen to what other people have to say, being flexible to change and adjusting their expectations to adapt to changing circumstances and situations. Through this they learn to manage their emotions and disappointment from things not always going to be what they like or envisage, but they learn to cope with it – self regulation.
Most important of all, they learn more about themselves through being creative, learning to think for themselves, learning to create with their own imagination, and learning to put thoughts and focus into their own creation. They learn to be independent of all the expectations from day to day more structured activities, like school etc. Through play, they learn to relax, and they laugh thus reducing stress. With group play they talk to each other, they learn to get along and they learn about themselves.
Do incorporate unstructured play in their day to day activities. It’s fun and a positive thing.
Have a fun day with your children.