Structured play or unstructured play: Which is better for a pre-schooler?

Structured play or unstructured play: Which is better for a pre-schooler?

Play is the central part of your child’s sensory, physical, social, emotional and cognitive development. Is there a method to playing or should they follow their instincts? Actually, children need to experience structured play as well as unstructured play as both play a great role in the development of a child especially in their growing years.

Structured play includes music, exercises, painting, or playing a game. On the other hand, unstructured play comprises any child activity where the little one takes charge of his or her own play. Since both are important to kids, it’s important to strike a balance between them. 

Structured play

This is a form of goal-oriented play where the child uses his or her innate logic to solve any problems. This form of play activities are important to develop a child’s confidence, resilience and team-spirit, not to mention communication skills. 

Examples of structure play include following directions to assemble toys, or a jig saw puzzle, or playing Lego’s. Playing organized sports like IT, football or cricket, or board games that have definite rules are examples of structured play. 

Unstructured play

This kind of play promotes creativity. The child learns by using his or her creativity thinking and logical reasoning as well. Being an open-ended kind of skill, the child’s mind and vision can be enriched in innumerable ways. 

Examples of unstructured play include games without rules that can be improvised as you go along. A good example include block-building, colouring, painting or drawing, storytelling or running around in a garden or playground. 

Benefits of Structured Play

Structured play helps shape a child’s brain and stimulates its development. Its other benefits include: 

  • Exposes your child to new things that s/he may not discover on his or her own
  • Builds balance, strength, speed, agility and coordination 
  • Playing movement games helps the child master motor skills and be active. For example, learning to hold a pencil or crayon, build blocks, play the drum and throw a ball help build motor skills
  • Learn social skills like respecting limits, taking turns and setting boundaries 

Benefits of Unstructured Play 

When children indulge in free play, the benefits are many. Some of them include: 

  • Experimenting with new and different things 
  • Development of problem solving skills  
  • Boost creativity as these games spur imagination and leads to social and emotional development
  • Helps the child become independent and self-reliant 
  • Helps the child by learning to see, respond and adapt to any kind of change in his/her social situation. As the child grows older, this skill helps them to share and work with others, and sort out any problems with their friends. 

A Balance is required

For a child’s well-being and proper growth, they need both kinds of play—structured and unstructured. Equally, a nutritious diet will also play its own role in helping a child develop all kinds of skills and learning propagated by both types of play. 

During play, a child should be totally engrossed in finding a lesson or reward from that activity. If you find your child losing concentration on a particular activity or play, change it immediately so that they are not bored. 

Here are a few ways by which you can strike a good balance between structured and unstructured play:

  • Set aside some time every day for your kid to spend in unstructured play.  If s/he doesn’t have the time to play or doesn’t seem interested in it, find a creative solution for it. 
  • Ask your child what s/he wants to do. Ask them to use their imagination and tell what they are thinking 
  • Look out for opportunities for your child to play outdoors. 
  • Let your child engage in structured activities. You child must have a few choices as their basic movement skills should be transferable from activity to activity. 
  • As the seasons change, bring out the relevant sports equipment so that s/he plays in all seasons, without complaining of the rain or heat. 

Combining Both Is the Key 

As a parent or teacher, you need to strike a balance between these two kinds of play. On the one hand, spare some time for your child to just play and engage with them, but after a while, let them play on their own. All the while, though, ensure that your child is having a great time. It’s only through fun play activities that kids learn as they grow.  

As a parent or teacher, you know the challenges kids face when they react to structured or unstructured play activities. To motivate them could be a difficult task, but as you understand the mind set of your child, you can meet them halfway and let them have the best of both activities, so that they have a fully rounded personality.  

Good luck and happy parenting!

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