Unstructured Free Play is the best type of play for young children. This is creative play that just happens, depending on what takes your child’s interest at the time. Free play lets your child use their move at their own pace and use their imagination, it isn’t planned out. Unstructured play might be: Exploring a new or favorite play space. Imaginative games – like, making cubby houses with boxes or blankets, dressing up or playing make-believe. Quality creative play alone or with others, including artistic or musical games. You can be part of your child’s unstructured play – or not. Sometimes all you’ll need to do is point them in the right direction – towards the jumble of dress-ups and toys on their floor, or to the table with crayons and paper. Sometimes you might need to be a bit more active. Suggesting, ‘How about we play dress-up? What would you like to be today?’.
Structured Play is different. It is most times led by a grown-up. It’s more organized and happens at a set space or at fixed time, Examples of quality structured play may be some modified sports for slightly older children, like cricket, basketball, netball. Or, dance, music or drama classes for children of all ages. Water familiarization classes for toddlers, or swimming lessons for older children – you might see these as important lessons for your child, but they might just think they’re fun. Storytelling groups for toddlers and preschoolers at the local library. Family board or card games. As your child grows, the way they play will change – they’ll get more creative and experiment more with toys, games and ideas. This might mean they need more space and time to play. Also, children move through different forms of play as they grow. This includes playing alone, playing alongside other children and interactive play with other children.
For babies, the best toy is you. Just looking at your face and hearing your voice is play for your new baby, especially if you’re smiling. You might like to try the following play ideas and activities with your little one: Music, songs, gentle tapping on your baby’s tummy while you sing, bells or containers filled with different objects, these activities can help develop hearing and movement. Sturdy furniture, balls, toys, or boxes can get your child crawling, standing and walking. Objects of different sizes, colors and shapes can encourage your child to reach and grasp. Regular floor play and tummy time are very important for your baby’s development. This helps your baby develop movement control by strengthening head, neck and body muscles.
Here are some ideas your toddler might enjoy: Boxes, hoops, large rocks or pillows are good for climbing on, balancing, twisting, swaying or rolling. Hills, tunnels or nooks can encourage physical activities like crawling and exploring. Big and light things like cardboard boxes, buckets or blow-up balls, or couch cushions can encourage your child to run, build, push or drag. Chalk, rope, music or containers can encourage jumping, kicking, stomping, stepping and running. If you put on some favorite music while your toddler plays, they can also experiment with different sounds and rhythms. You might also like to sing, dance and clap along to music with your child.
To get your preschooler’s mind and body going: Playdough and clay help your child develop fine motor skills. Simple jigsaw puzzles and matching games like animal dominoes help improve your child’s memory and concentration. Old milk containers, wooden spoons, empty pot plant containers, sticks, scrunched-up paper, plastic buckets, saucepans and old clothes are great for imaginative, unstructured play. Balls and frisbees can encourage kicking, throwing or rolling. When encouraging your child to kick or throw, try to get them to use one side of their body, then the other. Favorite music or pots and pans are great for a dance concert or to make up music.
School-age children can have fun with the following objects and activities, Home-made obstacle courses can get your child moving in different ways, directions and speeds. Simple cooking or food preparation like measuring, stirring and serving food is great for developing math and everyday skills. Furniture, linen, washing baskets, tents and boxes are great for building. Your child’s own imagination. With imagination, your child can turn themselves into a favorite superhero or story book character. Rhymes or games like ‘I spy with my little eye, something that begins with… ‘ are great for word play and help develop literacy skills.
“Free play and exploration are, historically, the means by which children learn to solve their own problems, control their own lives, develop their own interests, and become competent in pursuit of their own interests.”-Peter Gray, Research Professor, Department of Psychology, Boston College