“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” ~Joseph Chilton Pearce

Get outside and play. I remember hearing that all the time growing up. Today’s version of playtime looks a little different than it did thirty-some-odd years ago when I was a kid.

Modern moms schedule play dates, chauffeur kids from guitar lessons to sport practice, and tend to come up for air when the kids settle down into their video games or go to bed. We are doing our best in a world filled with unsafe neighborhoods and a fear of “stranger danger” that’s constantly fed an unhealthy diet by the media outlets.
Is all our effort making a difference? In an era of reduced recess time, recess coaches, and over-testing, what is best for our over-stimulated
children? I want to take a quick look at two different types of play and how they are integral to shaping the lives and characters of today’s kids in and out of the classroom.

Structured Play
Structured play has a defined and predetermined outcome. Sport practices for older children and tummy time for babies are good examples of structured play. Most board games and card games fall into this category of play. During structured play time, a child discovers how to reach an established goal in the most efficient way possible. These activities ignite a child’s analytical thinking and physical development. Disguised in play, a child improves her social and emotional skills, fine and gross motor control, improves communication, and uses her creativity. A lot of the play activities that children have at school falls under Structured Playtime.

Unstructured Play
Unstructured play, as you may have already guessed, is play that is initiated and directed wholly by the child. It is unfettered play where the child must rely on his own resources to fill the time. Unstructured play, like its counterpart, can take place inside or outdoors. Playing with blocks, building from the imagination, is a great example. Playing with dolls, drawing, running, climbing, spinning, and dancing all fully engage the child in playtime without preset rules or a person guiding him through the time. There is no end goal. He is the captain of his own ship, immersed in the boundless decision-making possibilities.

Unstructured play leans in to the child’s instinctual nature and sense of wonder. What seems like a small task to an onlooker watching a child dig in the dirt with a stick is quite a crucial part of the child’s developmental process. As he explores his environment during unstructured play, he pushes the boundaries of social interaction. He processes what he experiences through each of his senses available to him in a full body way. Herein lies the foundations of creativity.

Play Improves the Mind & Body
Play is full body learning and exploration. It leads to enhanced problem solving and critical thinking, things typically thought to be found only inside the classroom. Play stretches the child’s imagination. She learns self-esteem and sets higher aspirations. There is a heightened motivation for learning, and for relaying on oneself. These are fundamental rungs on the developmental ladder.
Play time is vitally important. What seems like an innocent activity accustoms a child to structured daily routines. It cultivates curiosity and creates a movement journey for the child. As a result, she learns
mastery over her body. He learns to be in control of his body. This self-realization helps the child learn to be inwardly still for academic learning.