As adults, we tend to hold on to the idea of structure and stability. But, when it comes to outdoor play, unstructured activities can often be more beneficial than organised ones. That’s not to say that organised games don’t have a place in the playground. It’s just that unstructured play offers a blank canvas for children’s raw creativity. While organisation teaches children to follow rules and practise their skills, unstructured play leads to a much more diverse form of learning.
Children don’t always need adult guidance to prosper. Although their games may seem fantastical and unproductive to us, they are often the best way for them to express themselves. Currently, children are only getting around 1.9 hours of unstructured play a day. Compare this to the 6.5 hours children spend on tablets and smartphones and you can see just how much room for improvement there is.
Encouraging Unstructured Play At Home And At School
Time and parenting rarely go hand in hand. We all lead busy lives that make scheduling playtime that much more difficult. But, in order to help our children reach their full potential, we need to be willing to nurture their creativity. For the most part, unstructured play simply requires supervision. Parents don’t have to spend time going over the rules or teaching their children exact techniques. While it’s always fun for adults to involve themselves in play, sometimes taking a step back can allow children to discover their own sense of perspective.
Creativity comes from the ability to see a situation in a different light. Children who are encouraged to think independently normally become more imaginative as a result. Unstructured play provides children with the time and space to explore, investigate and experiment with the everyday objects we take for granted. In a child’s mind, a ball can be so much more than a simple piece of play equipment. It can be a rare bird’s egg or even a creature from another world. When it comes to unstructured play, the possibilities are endless and the learning opportunities are abundant.
Using Outdoor Play Equipment To Boost Creativity
The best play equipment for unstructured play tends to be open-ended. In other words, it doesn’t have to be designed for one, singular purpose. A great example of this would be outdoor climbing frames or sand tables, but any other multi-functional item can offer the same benefits.
When children play with this equipment, it gives them the chance to learn the skills structured games can’t teach them. Unstructured play focuses on enabling children to make their own decisions, build their self-esteem and solve problems using their own ingenuity. All of these skills are vital for creative thinking and can inspire the next generation of artists, scientists and movie directors. Einstein himself valued the importance of imaginative play, and surely there’s no greater advocate than the father of modern science.
As long as you take the time to create an environment for unstructured play, your children will do the rest. It’s easy to remain over-cautious, especially if their games take place outdoors. But, unless children are given the space to make — and learn from — their own mistakes, they will never understand where improvements can be made. By over-emphasising the need for structure, you end up with children who require constant attention. Teach your child that boredom is okay. This is the time when their creativity will be most tested.
So, rather than filling up every available moment of your child’s life with extra-curricular activities, decide which ones they are actually enjoying. By dropping the ones they are no longer interested in, you create more time for unstructured play. View your child’s unstructured playtime in the same way you view your day at work. Though it may seem unproductive through adult eyes, it is truly the cornerstone of their emotional intelligence and creative process. Children learn best when they are able to think for themselves and it is our duty to help them foster that independence.
*Guest post written by Sam Flatman