Why Unstructured Play is So Important
Spring is finally here! It is a great time to be outdoors and play with your children. Play is so important for your children, especially unstructured outdoor play. While structured play is also important, that is activities that involve instruction with an adult like sports or arts classes, it is important to not overbook your child with these activities and make time for unstructured play and let kids be kids.
Why is outdoor unstructured play important? The first, and most obvious reason is for exercise. Childhood obesity is a growing concern and many children do not get enough physical activity, especially in today’s world with the growing use of media and technology.
Other benefits of outdoor play indicated by research are improved learning skills such as increased problem solving and focus, improved emotional well-being such as increased happiness, being more social with other children, decreased aggression, and improvements in creativity.
“Children will be smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play in the out-of-doors,” concluded one authoritative study published by the American Medical Association in 2005.
Indoor play is important too. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “60 minutes of daily unstructured free play as an essential part of children’s physical and mental health and social development.’’ It is important to ensure your children get playtime, whether indoors or outdoors.
Children need the physical activity, the hands-on exploring, and the real life social interactions to learn. So even if it is cold and snowy outside, you child can still greatly benefit from unstructured play time. They’ll learn to problem solve, use their creativity, learn motor skills, and even learn to entertain themselves.
Increased usage of media has been playing a role in the length of children’s playtime. Media has been replacing much of the physical activity time. Problems can begin when media use displaces this hands-on learning. Limit the screen time and ensure it doesn’t take the place of other activities that are needed for learning. Children need this human interaction. If your children are watching TV or using other media, at least watch with your children so you can help explain things they may not otherwise understand.
Have dedicated screen-free time with your children, such as after dinner time and before bed. If there is too much time with electronics and screen time before bed, it can disrupt your child’s sleep. Work together with your children to make media enhance their learning, but not replace it. It is important your children continue to have the time for activities for hands-on learning and playing, continued human interaction, family time, and exercise along with a well-structured bedtime routine.
In summary, spending time playing with your children, whether playing indoors or playing outdoors, is so valuable. In addition to all the benefits for your child’s learning, it allows you the opportunity to be fully engaged with your children. You can ave fun quality time with them, while also making wonderful memories.
Ali is a board certified pediatrician who practiced general pediatrics for five years in a busy private practice. She since has moved into the pharmaceutical industry and oversees and mentors many physicians globally. She enjoys sharing her knowledge and experiences as a pediatrician with other moms and dads. She has contributed to various online websites and blogs. She also has an interest in creating healthier lifestyles and safer environments for pregnant women and children including alternative approaches to their health and wellness.