Unstructured play for pre-school children …


The value of unstructured play for pre-school children

Pre-school children play an active role in their own development by means of their interaction with the environment, which takes place by way of unstructured play. Unstructured play is a creative expression of pre-school children’s physical, cognitive, social and emotional self, and creates opportunities to acquire important skills and values that are necessary for the mastering of their worlds. Unstructured play is characterised by the fact that it occurs voluntarily and that it is motivated by the pre-school children themselves – children therefore do not play to achieve a goal, but they rather give themselves over to the joyful element of unstructured play.

Pre-school children associate unstructured play with freedom, independence and choices. 

The purpose of this study was to explore and describe parents’ perception of the value of unstructured play for their pre-school children and to make recommendations to professional persons who offer parental guidance to parents with regard to the value of unstructured play for pre-school children. Mrs Yolanda Huijsamer, a North-West University Master’s student, undertook this study under the direction of Mrs Issie Jacobs from the Centre for Children, Youth and Family Studies in Wellington.

If the value of unstructured play for pre-school children is taken into consideration, it is of great concern that pre-school children’s exposure to unstructured play is declining.

Parents play an important role in the provision of the correct environment for children’s development. However, parents are increasingly choosing structured activities with the aim to enhance their pre-school children’s development, at the expense of unstructured play.

Findings from the study have indicated that unstructured play is important for pre-school children for the following reasons:

  • The development and refining of gross-motor skills
  • Development of self-confidence to explore their environment more independently by means of social interaction
  • Development of perceptual skills
  • Social development in that children learn to take turns and to work together
  • Development of communication skills
  • Opportunity is created for children to learn to respect others and to show empathy
  • Personalities are brought to the fore
  • Development of the ability to handle problem situations

The study also brought to light that parents are aware of the fact that their children in the pre-school stage have to master certain development tasks in order to reach school readiness.

Pre-school children have a spontaneous tendency to use the environment in order to satisfy their needs and to master development tasks, which take place through unstructured play.

Furthermore, it seems that external factors such as group pressure, an unsafe environment, the rat race of society and fear with regard to school readiness compel parents to choose structured play instead of unstructured play.

The implication of this is that pre-school children are deprived of opportunities in that they are not exposed to unstructured play.

However, what is of more importance is the fact that the deprivation of unstructured play causes that opportunities for self-regulation for pre-school children are lost.

Self-regulation enables pre-school children to make good contact with their environment and to develop holistically.

The effect of the deprivation of unstructured play on pre-school children’s development may include the following:

  • Aggressiveness
  • Constant complaining
  • Lack of emotional and social expression
  • Difficulty in socializing
  • Tendency towards obesity

Unstructured play is an essential element of pre-school children’s development.

This development is a process that is influenced by their activities, roles and experiences, which stand in relation to their needs, rights, skills and vulnerabilities.

Article supplied by : Nicola Naidoo [nicola@hippocommunications.com]

{I was sent this article, and though I did not find it awe inspiring in it’s revelations. I did find it was able to clarity what I struggle to explain.

I usually just say that often children lack the ability to “just play” because our lives are so structured by deadlines and things we need to do.  

In turn we fill our children’s diaries with all these activities and things they have to take part in, when maybe just leaving them to play is what they need…. how often do our children look to us to give them something to do, or our iphone or ipad when you keep saying “there is the tree and the grass, go and play!!”.}

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