How to Encourage Unstructured Play In Young Children

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #CollectiveBias #PlayingWithPlaymobil unstructured play “Mom, what activity are we doing today?”, my son asked, with genuine interest. What I wanted to say was, figure it out. Instead, I started to think that maybe its time I figure out how to encourage unstructured play in my children.

Over-scheduling My Kids

If I had a dollar for every time my son asked me what programmed activity or event we were doing on the weekend, I’d be rich by now. My kids are so used to scheduled activities. It’s not completely my fault. I actually blame the fact that they’ve been in some version of school since they were two. Although their childcare centers provided a lot of enriching activities, like art, science, even baking, they also taught my kids to expect very structured and constant activities. Ironically, I am also used to providing a lot of activities because I was raised by an elementary school teacher. Growing up, I actually sat with my mom (who taught second grade) as she prepped different crafts and other fun activities for her students. unstructured play 2 When I had kids, it was natural for me to prepare little crafts for them, little science projects, things to keep them engaged and busy all the time. But over time, I’ve actually realized that giving my kids free time to do whatever they want is also very important. On weekends, I always set aside at least an hour or two each weekend day for my kids to have unstructured playtime. Honestly, they generally hate free time. They’d rather do an activity with me, watch a tv show, play with their tablets, or go somewhere with me. But I’ve found that it’s just the process of starting free play that they dread. Once they figure out what they are going to do, they almost always have a great time. Generally, they don’t even want to stop.

Toys That Encourage Free Play


Hover over the image above to shop for these PLAYMOBIL playsets at Target! Recently, one of my favorite ways to encourage free play is to break out their PLAYMOBIL sets from Target. They especially love the new DreamWorks Spirit Riding Free PLAYMOBIL sets because they get to bring one of their favorite tv shows to life. All of the PLAYMOBIL sets are so much fun because kids get to create all types of worlds – from real-life ones, like police and fire – to fantastical, like modern-day dinosaurs. The Spirit sets are so much fun for my kids because they love the show and it’s fun for them to act out and recreate their favorite scenes. They also get to use their imagination with all of the realistic and detailed pieces. My daughter especially loved all the little cleaning tools and brushes for the horses. She spent a significant amount of time brushing the horses and sweeping up the stable with the little push broom. My son had the most fun changing out the saddles and jumping with the horses.

Benefits of Unstructured Play

Sure, there is a benefit to my kids knowing how to participate in structured activities and learning. But there is a major benefit for them to experience unstructured play. One of the first benefits of free play is increased creativity. When kids play freely, they are not weighed down by rules or time. They get to create their own rules and push boundaries of how objects or their spaces are used. Free play, when kids play together, also encourages social and emotional growth, including conflict resolution and teamwork. If kids are playing together in a free play setting, they will need to make decisions like what game to play and how to accomplish that game. They have to develop and share their ideas with each other. Also, they have to work as a team to create the outcome they want from their game. Free play also improves motor skills. It depends on the toy and experience, the PLAYMOBIL set actually uses a lot of fine motor skills, while other free play can also improve gross motor skills. Overall, I’ve found it’s important for me to build in unstructured playtime into our overly structured schedule. I know it might seem counter-intuitive to actually schedule free play. But I think it’s important to prioritize it for my kids. I want them to have a balanced and well-rounded childhood, and that includes time to just be kids. Free play is so important in helping them to make sense of and function in the world, so I’m going to encourage unstructured play whenever I can.

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