Play is integral in a child’s learning and development as it gives them the opportunity to learn about the world and engage their thinking skills, such as creativity, problem-solving and the chance to make friends. While educational toys and games are great, children must also have the freedom to exercise their imagination and explore their own ideas free from structure and set activities. This is known as unstructured play.

It’s a child-led approach to play that removes rigid guidelines and allows children the opportunity to make discoveries of their own. Here are some facts on the importance of unstructured play that were shared with us by an independent school in London.

1. Creative Thinking

Also, being left to do their own thing can help children develop their creativity as they must use their imagination.

2. Social Skills

Unstructured play can help children with their social skills and team working as they will need to explain their ideas and what they want to achieve to others and enlist their help. 

3. Problem-Solving 

Unstructured play involves experimentation and children figuring out how to execute their ideas. They may also run into problems along the way which can help them work on their problem-solving skills.

4. Resilience 

To follow on from the point above, when said ideas don’t go to plan, they will need to find a way forward, be patient and learn how to handle situations by themselves. This can develop resilience which is the ability to get back up after setbacks.

5. Independence

This child-led approach can help children with their confidence as they learn to deal with problems themselves, and develop patience, confidence and many other skills needed to be independent. 

How to Implement Unstructured Play

While the focus is to allow children freedom and flexibility to explore their ideas, they will of course require play resources. Open ended toys such as Lego and modelling clay are great options as they are very malleable and can be used to work on an endless number of projects. Also consider games that allow them to have a creative input, such as hide and seek.

Self-Expression and an Outlet

As they have the reins, children can create whatever they want. They can use it as a means of self-expression and let off steam. This can help with their emotional regulation and mental health.

These are just a few ways in which unstructured play can be beneficial for children, it’s also worth acknowledging that unstructured play may not always lead to learning as intended as children may struggle to get started. So instead, a guided play approach may be more appropriate, through the means of a game that allows them the opportunity to exercise their creativity.