The Gift Of Unstructured Play


The Gift Of Unstructured PlayOften, when we have children and enter into the world of parenting, we naturally want to give them the world. Perhaps for each of us our ideals differ, yet many times these may include opportunities we hope to give our kids such as trips, education, music lessons, art classes, gymnastics, karate, tennis, horseback riding, shelter, clothes, nutrition, and all the other ways we care for our kids. Yet, perhaps within the goodness of all these things, is the goodness of an even more simple gift — one that does not cost anything — and might just be priceless.

It’s the gift of unstructured play.

In a culture of hurry, hurry, hurry and more, more, more, a culture that can be very achievement driven, it can be easy to lose sight of the value of unstructured play, with the focus instead being on structured activities, achieving goals, or even believing it’s our job to entertain our kids every second. In this way, sometimes boredom is viewed as bad and the thing we want to prevent the most. Yet, there is incredible benefit in time that is not planned, rushed, and structured for our kids. In this space, our children may not know what to do with themselves and it may actually feel harder on the parents. However, if we can lean into it a bit and sit with discomfort, perhaps we will see over time that play holds many particular gifts.

Flexibility and problem solving

When children play, they encounter the chance to experiment with outcomes and try on different roles and possibilities. In play, the stakes are low as it is simply for the sake of play and delight, yet what children learn in play actually helps develop their problem solving abilities.


Play invites kids into endless opportunities to dream and develop, to write stories and scripts. It invites children to figuratively color outside the lines, to let them press into and strengthen their imaginations, and sense that all things are possible.

The examples are endless of seeing kids expand their imaginations through building with Legos and blocks, playing with dolls and stuffed animals, even just having a large cardboard box and being given freedom to draw, paint, color, and imagine. The list goes on and on. The dress up clothes and props invite so many possibilities, the simple ball that encourages various games, play dough and kinetic sand, etc.

Autonomy and relationships

Play can be enjoyed both alone and with other children. By playing alone, children can learn that they can actually enjoy being by themselves at times. By playing with others, relationships are cultivated, more fun is often had, and children strengthen communication and conflict management skills as they learn to work things out, use their voice when needed, and listen to the perspectives of others.

Delight in small things

One of the best benefits of play is that it can help cultivate in kids (and adults too) the ability to notice and delight in small, everyday kinds of things. This can have a profound impact on well-being especially as we move into our adult lives where many of our days can feel mundane at times — showing up at work, paying more bills, etc. While entertainment and adventures are incredible and add so much joy, a lot of our life is lived in the everyday. Play helps our kids find delight and goodness in the small things.

Margin to rest and regroup

Of course, there’s value in the structured parts of life: going to school, to ballet, to soccer practice, to piano lessons, etc., yet there is also immense value in having some margin to regroup between activities. If you are noticing that there truly is no time for your child to have unstructured play, consider how that sits with you. What would it look like to create even just a little more margin for unstructured play? Could this be a gift to your child?

To read more about the benefits of play even for adults, be sure to read more here. To read more about simple, less structured enjoyment of Chattanooga, be sure to read this post here.



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