The Importance of Free Time & Unstructured Play

The Importance of Free Time & Unstructured Play

How Kids Benefit from Unstructured Outdoor and Indoor Play

In a time when kids seem to be growing up too fast, it’s important to take pause and allow kids to be kids. This is especially true with play. Many parents feel pressured to enroll their kids in several extracurricular activities, such as organized sports, dance classes, and music lessons. And while these activities have their own distinct benefits, it’s also important to allow your kids to have free time to do what they please. Unstructured play has many positive results for child development and shouldn’t be pushed aside in order to fill up your child’s schedule with structured activities. Whether your child is playing outside with friends, or at an Ottawa indoor play centre, they will be glad you allowed them this free time.

Structured Vs. Unstructured Play

Adult-controlled play, such as organized sports, dance classes, and music lessons, follows structured, scheduled rules. While these are obviously important for your child’s mental and emotional development, it’s also equally as important to allow them the opportunity to be adventurous and spontaneous with their playtime. Pressuring children to succeed and win doesn’t always allow them to explore and enjoy themselves on their own terms as they would with free play. These adult rules can get in the way of a child’s pace for discovery, creativity, and imagination.

Unstructured play and free time for older children are both incredibly important for healthy cognitive, social, and emotional development. Unstructured play and unscheduled time spent with peers promotes social-emotional learning. When kids play freely, there is less pressure and stress compared to structured play time. Regarding social development, play encourages collaborative work amongst kids and teaches them these essential life skills:

  • Sharing,
  • Negotiating,
  • Problem-solving,
  • Conflict resolution, and,
  • Self-advocacy.

Child-driven play allows kids to be imaginative, make decisions, discover interests, and pursue passions all at their own pace. This plays a major role in helping them get to know who they are and what they want as they grow up. Adults can certainly engage (and are encouraged to) in unstructured play with their kids. This allows parents to be more involved with their children as they develop.

There are also physical benefits to unstructured play. Whether your child plays outdoors around the neighbourhood or takes part in indoor play at home or at an indoor playground, they can certainly get the recommended 60 minutes of activity that children need every day for physical health and development.

Tips for Parents

Make free time in your kid’s schedule for unstructured play, and find a healthy balance with structured play so your kids can have a chance to discover their own interests. This gives kids more freedom to play and get creative. Don’t push your children into doing too much, or taking part in an activity they really don’t want to do. Growing children need the freedom to discover their interests and pursue their passions without too much pressure from Mom and Dad.

Whether at home, outside, or at an Ottawa indoor play centre, give your children the free time they need to develop at their own pace and let your kids be kids.