Leave Unstructured Play Unstructured, Please

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In a conversation about homework and unstructured play, we find an assumption that unstructured play happens outdoors.

  • What about children who live in apartments?
  • Should homework be used as a babysitter?


Unstructured play = imagination.  You can play for hours in a small corner.  My girls play for hours inside.  And outside.  With a myriad of tools or none at all.  Their greatest tool – imagination.

  • Should we provide examples of unstructured play?
  • Do we show parents how to do it?


As soon as we start providing examples, it is no longer unstructured.

While I understand the need for education and examples, I do feel we need to be very careful that we don’t create formulas that can be copied.  The beauty of unstructured play is freedom and choice.  Rather than provide examples, let’s provide the ingredients necessary for unstructured play to happen.

imagination + freedom + choice + inspiration (in the form of a rock, toy, shell, spoon, etc) = unstructured play

After this, let’s just let them play.  It is exhausting work, and when left alone, children can and will do it for hours and hours.  My greatest joy as a parent are the occasional moments when I overhear their play.  It’s inspiring.  And it can happen anywhere.  As long as we stay out of it and let them dream!

One Reply to “Leave Unstructured Play Unstructured, Please”

  1. Preach it! One of the rebuttals I hear is, “It can’t be that easy!” In theory it is simple – give kids time to play. In reality, the ‘staying out of the way’ is the most challenging part for many. The desire to give your children the best drives the parental question, “What should it look like?” The only needed parameter may be ‘unplugged time’. (And then I chuckle at how things have changed. When did we need to start specifying that ‘playtime’ needs to be anything other than, “Go play!”?)

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