Structured play refers to play activities that have a specific goal, outcome or set of rules associated with it. In structured play, activities are often organized or lead by an adult who may direct how, when and what the child engages in.
There certainly are benefits to engaging in activities, however this should be complemented with time and play opportunities for children to engage in unstructured free play as well.
Unstructured free play is child-directed, intrinsically motivated, spontaneous, not limited by a certain set of directives and is not necessarily reality-bound. They can create, direct and adapt play scripts and the surrounding play milieu along with playmates as they engage in their play adventure.
Unstructured play provides children with opportunities to develop important skills including:
- Executive functioning (working memory, flexible thinking and learning to self-regulate)
- Creative thinking and problem solving
- Socio-emotional development
and contributes to health and well-being through being physically active to name a few of its benefits.
This does not mean that free play requires caregivers to relinquish complete control over a home context. This does however, require us as adults to provide children with the opportunity, in terms of space and time, to engage in true free play.