Once upon a time, in a small suburban neighborhood, there lived a young girl named Lily. She resided in a quaint house on Elm Street, where her life was consumed by a whirlwind of structured activities and endless lessons. From the moment she woke up until the late hours of the evening, Lily’s schedule was packed with one extracurricular activity after another, leaving no room for spontaneous fun or unstructured play.

Lily’s parents believed that filling her days with piano lessons, ballet classes, and academic tutoring would pave the way for a successful future. Yet, while her friends laughed and played in the nearby park, Lily sat at her desk as the playground, once a place of joyful escape, remained unexplored, its swings and slides yearning for the touch of a carefree child. Lily’s parents thought they were doing what was best for her, but they failed to realize the vital importance of unstructured playtime in a child’s life.

unstructured play is critical to the development of kids. Family on the beach with father encouraging his daughter to play

A Hallmark of Childhood!

Engaging in play has always been a hallmark of childhood. From the very first time an infant uses their body and movements to explore the world around them to Lily’s friends playing on the playground with their peers. Play is any activity that provides the individual with enjoyment, fun, entertainment, and joy. Play allows children to be creative, engage with peers, live out different scenarios, and build life skills. 

Extracurricular Activities & Unstructured Play

Extracurricular activities are great for our developing children to be engaged in, especially when it is activities that they enjoy being a part of. However, unstructured or self-directed play can be the most supportive in your child’s development. Allowing time for unstructured play can support your child in getting to know themselves and the world around them better, building social skills, mental flexibility, and exploring different alternatives. 

Now that we know that play is important, how do we support our children to engage in play? 

How To Play?

The first thing that is important to note is that this play with your child should be from a more supportive role versus a direct role in the activities of play. Allowing them to explore new surroundings, be inquisitive to allow for understanding, and try out different things. Try and tap into your inner child when engaging in play with your child, be silly! Play can bring you closer to your child and provide insight into their little world. 

If you are wanting to explore what play can look like with your child or support your child through engagement in unstructured play, please feel free to reach out to me, Dr. Kendal Vaarwerk, for a free and confidential consultation, after which, together, we can decide your preferred next steps. I look forward to hearing from you!

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