The Timeless Benefit Of Unstructured Play

Family Counseling Insights brought to you by California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.

For the last year people have been coping with having their normal routines upended. A lot of people are adjusting by simply using their common sense. For those who prefer to seek out expert advice on ways to cope, there have been plenty of options — newspapers, TV shows and websites are filled with articles on adjusting to pandemic lifestyles.

A child playing with leaves

Rebecca Clay, writing for the American Psychological Association (APA) website, adds to the bank of information by offering some much-needed insight about helping children during these difficult days. “Guides for parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic are full of advice about how to help children navigate the transition to virtual classes,” says Clay, “how to keep children busy and avoid boredom, and why schedules and routines are important during this stressful time. What might be overlooked? Unstructured play.”

This is an excellent point. Some parents focus on the unusual problems they’re facing, and forget to pay attention to basic advice that should pertain in all circumstances. Promoting unstructured play is one such area.

“A wealth of research,” says Clay, “shows that unstructured play — play that isn’t organized or directed by adults or older peers and that generally doesn’t have a defined purpose or outcome — is a fundamental necessity for children to thrive physically, emotionally, mentally and socially.”

Now, and even after we resume normal life post-pandemic, it helps for parents to encourage their kids to enjoy unstructured play on a regular basis. To do so, parents should try to:

  • Enjoy playtime with their children
  • Let the kids take the lead
  • Encourage “pretend play”
  • Facilitate safe interaction with peers
  • Send kids outside
  • Incorporate playfulness into everyday activities

For a further discussion about unstructured play, and some links to other valuable resources on the subject, see the complete article here.