Structured play, also known as play with a purpose, combines a fun activity with learning. For preschoolers, structured play is one of the best ways to get your child learning and having fun. Using games or enjoyable activities to introduce toddlers to a new skill will teach them that learning doesn’t have to be boring.
Structured play time is important for your child’s growth and development. Today is a good day to spend some quality play time with your little one!
Seven reasons why structured play is important to kids
Play can be the most beneficial and important stage of your child’s life from infancy to preschool. Play contributes to the physical, emotional, cognitive and social skills of your child. It also allows time for parents to be fully engaged with their child.
- Develops motor skills and coordination – Preschoolers’ have lots of energy that keeps them active. That activity helps them learn about their limbs and muscle movement and results in coordination development, a vital part of their growth. The key to teaching basic motor skills through structured play is to focus on movement.
- Boosts self-esteem – For structured play in a group setting, like sports or dance, kids become more comfortable with their body movement. Showing off their coordination skills to others increases their self-esteem and gives them a sense of achievement.
- Improves listening skills – Following directions and obeying rules can be challenging for preschoolers. But adult-led structured play that involves direction, like Simon Says, teaches kids to listen closely and follow simple instructions.
- Introduces physical activity – As toddlers start to learn about the world around them, participating in structured movement and physical activity is something new they need to learn. And they learn by watching and copying your movements. Playing games that require them to move their arms and legs not only exercises their muscles, it also introduces them to an active lifestyle. Movement helps them to stay fit, build motor and coordination skills, and helps them to learn that exercise can be fun.
- Improves mood – Do you feel great after a good workout? The flow of endorphins gives your body a feel-good boost. It’s the same for toddlers. Structured play gets them active and moving, meaning they will enjoy more smiles and fewer tantrums. It is also a great way to manage stress, which will help your child deal with anxiety later in life.
- Reinforces bonds with parents and teachers – By engaging in structured play led by adults, preschoolers learn to trust the people who care for them, which shows them that they have some much needed support.
- Gives them an introduction to sports – Often times, parents are excited for their children to play sports, but preschoolers may not be ready for the challenging, fast-paced activity. They tend to have a short attention span and a lack of understanding and comprehension.
Structured play allows all kids to participate. Preschoolers get an introduction to the basics of sports and how to handle the ball and other equipment. Some structured play also deals with simple steps or tasks, which will improve your child’s comprehension skills.
Things Structured Play Teaches Kids
Structured Play teaches kids to follow rules and guidelines as they are given direction in specific activities to develop the necessary skills for their stage of development.
Here are the top seven ways to engage in more structured play with your child, to take their development to the next level:
- BOOSTS ACTIVITY AND BUILDS MOTOR SKILLS – Make use of a playground or play a movement game at home. Your child will enjoy playing leapfrog or tag. Make up games that have crazy rules for your child to remember and follow.
- PROVIDES LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES – Send your child on a mission to find 2-3 of their favorite toys. Use these toys as to ask open-ended questions, discuss observations, and all they ways your child can play with the toys. This will open your child’s mind to comprehending and answering questions.
- ENCOURAGES THEIR IMAGINATION – Take 15 minutes to create imaginary fun with your child. This will not only boost their self-esteem, but teach them how to imagine and create for themselves. Encourage the love of reading by bringing life to your story time, imagination goes a long way.
- BUILDS SOCIAL SKILLS – Guiding your child to learn how to behave in situations is crucial. They need to learn how to engage with others. These are skills for life. Find games that encourage team building, kindness and concern for themselves and others.
- IMPROVES MOOD AND SELF-ESTEEM – Structured physical activities reduce anxiety and depression and give children a healthy outlet for managing stress. It also helps to give kids a positive body image, which builds self-confidence and gives them emotional and social skills.
- ENCOURAGE HEALTHY BEHAVIORS – Physical, structured activities go a long way to prevent excess weight and obesity. Research shows that obesity prevention programs in preschool are highly effective. Participating in guided activities for just an hour a day burns calories, builds muscle, and encourages kids to maintain an active life.
- TAKE NOTE OF DEVELOPMENT – Structured play allows you to become aware of your child’s development and notice where they may need more improvement. Check out the CDC website for a guideline of where your child should be for their age. Use this to challenge them as you create more activities.
IDEAS FOR STRUCTURED PLAY BY AGE GROUP
In the next section, we will share ideas for structured play activities for toddlers and preschoolers according to their age and development.
Toddlers Age 1-2
Toddlers like to use their developing walking skills to explore the world around them, exploring new movement possibilities and increasing their opportunity to learn. Basic movement skills like running and jumping will develop as children try them and gain confidence in their abilities. It is important for parents to create an environment that supports these movements.
Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Encouraging skills such as throwing, catching, and kicking when your child is ready
- Provide toys that enhance movement and social skills
- Engage in activities that encourage your child to support their body weight with their hands to develop upper body strength
- Play time with toddler-aged puzzles
- Play time with age appropriate board and card games
- Create obstacle courses by providing areas to crawl under and around, grasping large balls and inflatable toys, digging and building in sandboxes
- Use toys that promote strength, balance, flexibility and endurance
- Have child-size toys and equipment available to maintain interest and help your child learn new movement skills
- Provide musical instruments and keep them active with follow-along songs and basic rhythms
Preschoolers Age 3-4
Preschoolers are starting to master skills such as running, jumping and throwing. They begin to develop confidence in their abilities when they have opportunities to learn and practice new skills. Preschool children are often very social and imaginative; they love playing games, dancing, and riding tricycles.
Use these tips to help your preschooler stay active:
- Push/pull toys like wagons, doll carriages or play lawn mowers
- Different size balls and bean bags
- Tricycle and other riding toys
- Create an obstacle course with old boxes and cushions to crawl through
- Playground climbing equipment
- Simple singing games that involve movement such as “Hokey-Pokey,” “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” or “If You’re Happy and You Know It!”
- Running games such as “Tag” or “Red Light-Green Light”
- Involve them in simple tasks such as setting the table, sorting laundry, putting away toys, and gardening
- Have a “Movement Parade” – march around the room and call out different things they can do like twirl, leap, and hop.
Age 5 and Up
School-age children need more of a variety of physical activity to meet their daily needs. Keeping your child active with physical activity that leaves them “out of breath” is exercising their heart and lungs along with muscles in their arms and legs.
Use the examples below to help your school-age child stay active:
- Play games that incorporate music and imitation with simple directions, let them lead
- Play games that incorporate strength and coordination like relay races, obstacle courses, tag, and tug-of-war
- Balls – Shoot basketballs, kick soccer balls in an effort to score points
- Hula Hoops
- Monkey bars
- Balance beams
- Encourage your child to invent their own games with rules
Structured Play vs. Free Play
Playing is obviously a lot of fun for kids. But, it is also the primary way that toddlers learn how to maneuver the world around them. Playing encourages muscle development, improves motor skills and develops essential social skills. It is important for your toddler to enjoy both structured and free play during playtime. To learn more about free play start here: The Importance of Free Everyday Play in Early Childhood
Both types of play have pros and cons. This list will help you understand why both types of play are essential to your child’s development and why you need a balance of the two.
STRUCTURED PLAY: THE PROS
- Structured play teaches skills your child will need for pre-school and helps them to develop important social skills like working together and cooperating.
- Structured play is guided by an adult, giving the child a sense of direction.
- Structured play can help your child accomplish more by encouraging them to complete specific tasks from beginning to end.
- There are set objectives and rules, which teaches your child boundaries.
- It increases muscle and motor skills.
- Structured play teaches self-discipline, persistence and listening skills.
STRUCTURED PLAY: THE CONS
- By itself, structured play doesn’t allow a child to explore problem-solving skills.
- It can be rigid, so too much time spent on structured play can cause your child to lose focus.
- Structured play doesn’t encourage the development of their creativity.
- There is no room for imagination as it involves boundaries and rules.
- It forces your child to participate in an activity that is chosen for them, even if they are not interested.
FREE PLAY: THE PROS
- It encourages your child’s imagination, decision-making, creativity, and social skills.
- Free play gives kids more freedom to initiate play and choose to play alone or with others.
- It allows your child to explore their abilities without pressure to perform with a specified result.
- Free play encourages problem-solving skills through creativity and imagination.
- Free play doesn’t require boundaries.
- It allows your child explore their feelings and use what they know.
FREE PLAY: THE CONS
- There is very little adult supervision or participation, which can result in chaos.
- Free play by itself does not teach a child learning skills they don’t like.
- It can be seen as freeform, without any boundaries.
- Free play only focuses your child on the areas they like instead of challenging them by new activities.
There are many great things about both structured and free play. Finding a balance and encouraging both is the ideal situation is for your child to develop necessary skills.
What you can read next?
- Top 10 Toys That Promote Gross Motor Skills For 2 Year Olds – choose some of the best toys to help with gross motor skills
- How Sensory Play Benefits Motor Development – Motor skills are any that involve movements and the development of muscles.
- Tips for Raising an Independent Toddlers – What can a toddler really do by herself / himself? What things should we allow them and encourage them to do by themselves?