Children need to get a variety of both structured and unstructured play throughout their day. Both types of play balance the learning and developmental skills of every child.
Structured play has a set of rules with definite objectives. Most games fall under the category of structured play: board games and classic outdoor games like soccer, netball and tunnel ball are all structured activities. Putting puzzles together is a structured activity. Following directions to assemble a model airplane or specific Lego structure is also structured play. When a child is engaged in structured play, they are pursuing the most resourceful way to achieve the desired result and are doing so within a set of rules or boundaries.
Children need a degree of structured play so parents and educators can guide the child to learn specific skills they need in life and for their future development. Structured play will introduce the child to new ideas and opportunities they may not have thought of themselves; it enhances learning abilities and opportunities. Organised structured games can teach a child social skills, co-operation and teamwork.
Unstructured play is open ended with unlimited possibilities. Building blocks, making Lego without direction, playing with dolls, dress-ups, is all unstructured play. Colouring in, drawing or painting on blank paper is usually also unstructured. Running around a playground, kicking a ball, swimming, making a cubby house from sheets and boxes or playing in a park is unstructured. Children in unstructured play set their own objectives and discover their own ways to achieve the outcome they desire. Unstructured play is less organised and the child’s imagination is utilised.
Unstructured play enhances the development of creativity and imagination, enables the child to make decisions on their own as to how and when they will do something. It allows the child to attempt and achieve what they desire and helps them feel rewarded in accomplishing the results they aspire to achieve. Unstructured is necessary for mind development and enables a child to gravitate naturally to the desired area of interest. It can teach a child some risk taking as they create new and inventive areas of play.
Structured play is often managed with educators, teachers and coaches while parents often provide the majority of unstructured play. Structured play is a prelude to unstructured play where children learn a structured skill then continue to expand on what they have learnt to develop and expand these skills.
Parents can assist children with their play by providing a range of different activities for the child to choose, this way the child remains directed while allowing the child to select their preferred activity and use their imagination in the way they wish.
The more structured play the child has been direct towards expands their capabilities into free unstructured play. Parents can see the modelling affect of their direction in the way the child expands on these structured activities.
Structured play is therefore the best way to direct children towards their own learning. Just like when we teach a child to count, they then progress to using numbers in a variety of different ways. They can sort into groups, count parts, sharing things evenly, etc.
Teaching a child how to build a sand castle can be used as a foundation to then lead a child into creating a variety of different structures, using water, shells, twigs and shapes.
If you give a child a piece of paper to play with they may simply look at it or draw on it however if you show a child in structured play how to make a paper aeroplane they can then use this piece of paper to build a variety of different shapes.
Newspaper is similar, give a child a newspaper and show them the ways it can be used so they can proceed to undertake paper mache, make pretend clothing, make an indoor bat to hit a ball with, so many things their imagination can cultivate just be being shown one or two different ways to use such common items.
The flow on effect from structured play is healthy.
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