Unstructured play has become an important part of a child’s future development, but some American kids aren’t getting enough according to experts. Unstructured play is defined as play without predetermined rules of the game, and is often made-up on the spot and changeable. Unstructured play has been shown to strengthen the connections of the neurons in the prefrontal cortex, activates the entire neocortex, teaches children to have positive interactions with others, helps them to be better students and can get kids moving.
One area that has cut down on unstructured play time for children has been homework. According to the National Education Association, an increase in homework in the last 20 years is associated with neutral (and sometimes negative) effects on student achievement. Research has also found that elementary-level students received about three times the amount of recommended homework by the NEA and the National Parent Teacher Association.
Although change in homework practices might take some time to change, the upcoming holiday break can allow more time for some unstructured play for your kids.
Here are a few ways to encourage unstructured play:
- Scale back on structured activities: Leave your kids a couple of “free” days - days without any scheduled activities - during the to explore new playgrounds and lounge around reading books.
- Go outside: Removing the walls gives kids a chance to stimulate their senses and evoke a sense of wonder and respect for the world around them.
- Let them create: Keep a box of toilet paper rolls, yarn, glue, pine cones, tissue paper, etc., for your kids to create something new and exciting.
- Get messy: Allow your kids to “cook” in the kitchen or dig through the dirt to find bugs and plants.
- Don’t solve their problems: Have your kids brainstorm ideas to figuring out their real-life problems, like opening a tricky box or being able to reach something.
- Say yes: Give your kids an unexpected “yes” when they expect your answer will be “no.”