Updated: Apr 26
It can be easy to want to push children to be productive all day every day, especially now that they might also be completing schoolwork at home! During unstructured play, the possibilities are endless! But what is it? Unstructured play is when we allow a child the opportunity to engage in open-ended play, where they decide what to play, how to do it, and when it ends. Finding a balance between structured and unstructured activities can support your child's development. Below are the benefits of unstructured play and strategies to set up the home environment to promote it.
1. We can share our Ideas: Give your child a chance to be the leader of play. Even if it is the craziest idea, let them share it and explore it in the context of play! It might seem like a silly idea to you, but this gives your child the chance to feel like their thoughts and ideas are heard and valued. You can:
Pick silly ingredients Play dress up Create new experiments
2. We can take new risks: Children are frequently told things during the day that they are not allowed to do because they are not safe (e.g., climbing up the slide, standing on a chair, crashing on the couch). Establish a physical boundary in a space that you feel comfortable, such as a downstairs playroom or backyard. Once established, give them a chance to challenge themselves at their own pace. Taking risks during play can be nerve-wracking for a parent to watch, but if your child isn’t successful, it gives them a chance to learn flexibility, resiliency, and adapt for next time. You can:
Do things backwards or allow them to roam
3. We can make an old game new: Who says a board game or sports have to be played the same way all the time?! Let the rules change, switch players' jobs, or play it with other materials! Pick a structured game your child likes and invent a new way to play it. Practice talking about the new rules and deciding how to play together. You can try this with:
Building games Card games Sports games
4. We can play together: Having special time where you are part of your child's play versus directing them can be a great opportunity to learn more about your child. You can:
Turn a box into something Create a vacation Play store or restaurant
5. We can explore new places: Getting outside has immense benefits and is a sensory experience in itself! Go to a beach, big field, or bike path and see what your child chooses to do! Let them decide how to use sand, leaves, and mud in their own way! You can:
Embrace the rain Watch the clouds Play with leaves
With school starting back up, be sure to leave time in the schedule for some fun unstructured play! Looking for more tips and tricks to promote your child's play skills? Give us a call to talk to one of our creative occupational therapists who can help you discover the unlimited possibilities!