The Necessity of Free, Unstructured Play

By Lesley Iwinski

Over the past 25 years, the amount of time children spend experiencing their world in real time – slowly, without being efficient or productive (both adult terms) – has decreased significantly, some say by more than 25%.

For children, play is important work. And the best play consists of unstructured, voluntary, child-initiated activity.

As children explore the world around them, they develop their imaginations.

In the process, play teaches children dexterity, social skills and problem-solving, and it also provides time for quiet reflection and processing of events and emotions.

Structured activities, music lessons, even a little screen time are fine, but for the full development of children into the unique people they are meant to be, play is essential.

In order to keep a balance, parents have to actively choose unscheduled, unstructured time.

Here are a few simple ingredients for unstructured playtime for younger children:

Squares of cloth or scarves
Cardboard boxes
(big ones are the most fun)
Jump rope
Buckets or cups
Dolls or figures
For older children, add:
Simple tools

The question of supervision is best answered by your own common sense and good judgment.

Boundaries need to be set, and attention paid to safety.

In an age of helicopter parenting, the challenge is to be courageous and let go of fears largely blown out of proportion by the media.

As children grow, allow more responsibility within limits.

Play also provides bonding time and gives adults a chance to enjoy their children.

Children who feel connected to their parents misbehave less because they are getting the time and attention they need. Everybody wins!

The simple act of playing alongside your small child, and of letting your older child direct play helps to build stronger minds, healthier bodies, and better relationships.

Take time… make time… for play!