The Importance of Unstructured Free Play


Published:

Photo by Milica Nistoran/Shutterstock

Children of all ages take part in structured active play through sports, classes or school. This type of play is wonderful for many reasons such as the physical and health benefits to the social and emotional benefits, However, all children need to take part in free play as well and, unfortunately, unstructured active free play is disappearing. Is it that adults are dismissing it as a waste of time or is it something that is being curbed because it is thought to be too dangerous? No matter the reason, unstructured active play should be a part of a child’s everyday life. 

What is Unstructured Free Play?

Unstructured free play is child-initiated and child-led active play where children decide everything or almost everything. Children decide how to play, where to play and with what and whom to play. Adults can participate and help facilitate the activity, but for the most part, adults do not provide direct instruction to the children. This type of play is natural to children, but they must be given the opportunity to learn and develop in how they are involved in free play.

Children’s free play is a form of communication and expression. It combines thoughts and actions, and provides satisfaction and a feeling of achievement. It is instinctive, voluntary and spontaneous. Free play, along with the basic needs of nutrition, shelter and education, are vital to healthy physical, social, emotional and cognitive development. Children who are engaged in unstructured active free play improve their strength, agility, fine and gross motor control, and physical confidence. These children also see growth in conflict resolution, cooperation, socialization and negation. Unstructured play helps develop a child’s emotional growth with better self-regulation, conflict resolution and impulse control. Additionally, children who are engaged in unstructured play gain literacy skills, critical thinking skills, and are able to practice experimentation and independent thinking. Through play, the whole child is developed.

What You Can Do

Provide the opportunity for young children to engage in free play. Allow them to take small risks and to run and play in the space around them for the sake of playing and enjoying themselves. At first, children may need some facilitation, but after a little experience and practice, the children will be ready to lead the play.

Challenge yourself to provide free play opportunities today and every day. 

  • Send your kids outside to play in the backyard with no instruction. If this is something new to your children, you may have to get them started with ideas of playing in the trees, looking for critters or going on a nature walk.
  • Next time it rains, encourage them to go outside. Most kids won’t need anything but permission to play in the rain. Let them get as messy as they would like.
  • Take them to a creek or lake and allow them to explore the water. Have buckets and sticks available to help them as they explore.
  • Encourage them to collect sticks. They can be anything from part of a fort to a sword, let the children decide.
  • Ask them to build something with only what they can find in the backyard. Let the children’s imagination run wild.

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

Spring Conference to Focus on How Moms Can Help Daughters Survive — and Thrive — in Middle School

Expert panel offers advice on how mothers can help daughters make the transition.

Wake County SmartStart Launches Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

Wake County to deliver free books monthly for ages birth to 5.

Fun Things to Do in the Triangle this Week, Jan. 22-25

Make icicle art in Apex, have fun with STEAM in Durham, check out a traveling exhibit in Raleigh and become a Citizen Scientist in New Hill.
Edit Module
Edit Module

About this Blog

Fit Family

Tips for healthy living

About This Blog

Our Fit Family blog focuses on healthy family lifestyles with tips for improving health through exercise and good nutrition.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

January 2018

Run Club meets every Sunday at 8 a.m. in Midtown Raleigh or Wake Forest. Stroller friendly; children invited. 

Cost: $10/run or $100/annual pass

Where:
Optimist Park Community Center/Greenways
5900 Whittier Drive
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Sponsor: FIT4MOM
Telephone: 919-348-0472
Contact Name: Missy Currin
Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Dress in your princess best and enjoy magical activities and delightful treats with a princess. Registration required online; limited availability. Choose from either the 10:30 a.m. or 2 p.m....

Cost: $15/member, $20/nonmember

Where:
Marbles Kids Museum
201 E. Hargett St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Enjoy live entertainment, hands-on projects and gallery hunts.

Cost: Free

Where:
Nasher Museum of Art
2001 Campus Dr.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

Experience the excitement of the NFC and AFC Championship games with 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalist Torry Holt and former NFL star Terrence Holt at this one-of-a-kind fundraiser to...

Cost: $25-$150

Where:
William Neal Reynolds Coliseum
2411 Dunn Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Website »

More information

Children make treasured memories while increasing their knowledge of plants and animals. Ages 7-10. Register online.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Women's Voices Chorus Winter concert, Song of the Universal, expores themes of war, the wish for peace, and the redemptive powers of nature, love and mercy.  Music will include works by...

Cost: $17/adult, $7/student

Where:
University United Methodist Church
150 E. Franklin St.
Chapel Hill, NC  27714
View map »


Sponsor: Women's Voices Chorus
Telephone: 919-307-6860
Contact Name: Publicity Chair
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Make a craft and enjoy tea with Belle. Ages 3-5. Register online. Choose course #110646.

Cost: $16/resident, $28/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn to make appetizers. Ages 11-14. Register online. Choose course #110048.

Cost: $35/resident, $46/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Take part in Open Studio Explorations, which are open-ended experiences in which children can use the materials in the studio to create at their own pace. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Our PlayHouse Preschool
3501 Hwy. 54 West
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
View map »


Telephone: (919)967-2700
Contact Name: Elizabeth Lenn
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Children delight in discoveries of shapes, colors and textures in nature. Ages 1 and older with parent. Registration required.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Enjoy stories with Amy Godfrey.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Regulator Bookshop
720 Ninth St.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn to prepare a meal inspired from Japan. Register online. Choose course #109615.

Cost: $35/resident, $46/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Children delight in discoveries of shapes, colors and textures in nature. Ages 1 and older with parent. Registration required.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Parents and their children ages 18 months to 4 years enjoy storytime, craft and snack. Contact Sarah Rapp to RSVP. srapp@saintraphael.org or 919-865-5725

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of the Neuse Rd
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Sponsor: Saint Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-4 years enjoy storytime, craft and snack. RSVP by emailing Sarah Rapp at srapp@saintraphael.org or calling 919-865-5725

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of the Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Sponsor: Saint Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Kids ages 11 and older test their knowledge of New Year's traditions, music, movies and more. Register online. Choose course #111618.

Cost: $2/resident, $3/nonresident

Where:
Cary Senior Center
120 Maury O'Dell Place
Cary, NC  27513
View map »


Website »

More information

Parents learn strategies for helping raise a child when a sibling has special needs. Register online. Choose course #11159.

Cost: $11/resident, $15/nonresident

Where:
Cary Senior Center
120 Maury O'Dell Place
Cary, NC  27513
View map »


Website »

More information

See Agatha Christie's stage version of her best-selling mystery novel. The story tells of ten strangers mysteriously brought together for a holiday on a deserted island, each hiding a murderous...

Cost: See the website for fees.

Where:
Holly Springs Cultural Center
300 W. Ballentine St.
Holly Springs, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Learn how to help your baby excel in motor development and master tummy time. Tummy time is a foundational skill for developing strong babies, and this class is appropriate for newborns and beyond....

Cost: $30

Where:
Baby + Company
226 Ashville Ave
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Telephone: 773-495-8117
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Read "Dragons Love Tacos" by Adam Rubin and make tacos for dragons. Register online. Choose course #109611.

Cost: $23/resident, $30/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

A wonderfully kid-paced hour featuring music, play and dancing with toddler stars singing on the mic at Cotton's gently amplified & participatory music show. Children delight in...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
Website »

More information

Youth ages 9-13 find out how not to be fooled by Fool’s Gold. Learn how geologists test minerals by using properties like hardness, streak, color, luster, and acid reactivity, then...

Cost: $6

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson staff
Website »

More information

See Agatha Christie's stage version of her best-selling mystery novel. The story tells of ten strangers mysteriously brought together for a holiday on a deserted island, each hiding a murderous...

Cost: See the website for fees.

Where:
Holly Springs Cultural Center
300 W. Ballentine St.
Holly Springs, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Take part in fun, hands-on science experiments, which include chemistry, physics, materials and an engineering experiment. See website for ages and times. Register online. 

Cost: $55/child

Where:
SMILE Camp
6301 Hillsborough St.
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: SMILE Camp
Telephone: 919-538-5278
Contact Name: Sheila Marsh
Website »

More information

Learn to make cupcakes with a winter wonderland theme. Ages 11 and older. Register online. Choose course #111457.

Cost: $26/resident, $34/nonresident

Where:
Middle Creek Community Center
123 Middle Creek Dr.
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Website »

More information

Take 3-5 gently used books for a discount or purchase a book to donate for a discount. Read A. Roo and other guest readers will be present.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., #110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn to identify common winter birds by sight and sound. Visit a bird-feeding station for up-close encounters, learn how to be a citizen scientist, and take home a feeder and identification...

Cost: $8/member, $10/nonmember

Where:
North Carolina Botanical Garden
100 Old Mason Farm Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
View map »


Sponsor: North Carolina Botanical Garden
Telephone: 919-537-3770
Contact Name: Elisha Taylor
Website »

More information

Enjoy all things LEGO at this festival that features creative displays and more. Organized by the North Carolina LEGO Users Group.

Cost: Free

Where:
Morehead Planetarium and Science Center
250 E. Franklin St.
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn how to navigate the college search and application process, prepare for college entrance exams, and more. Ages 12 and older with parent. Register online. Choose course #109354.

Cost: $5/resident, $6/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Explore the historic heart of downtown Raleigh on a walking tour of Fayetteville Street. Tours highlight the people, places, architecture and political movements that have shaped...

Cost: Adults (18+) $10; Youth (7-17) $4; Children (6 & under) Free.

Where:
City of Raleigh Museum
220 Fayetteville St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Gather your recyclables or use some at the preserve and enjoy relay challenges. Take part in engineering feats like bridge building and egg drops using recyclables. Hot chocolate...

Cost: $4/person

Where:
Durant Nature Preserve
8305 Camp Durant Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Website »

More information

Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Register online.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

See Agatha Christie's stage version of her best-selling mystery novel. The story tells of ten strangers mysteriously brought together for a holiday on a deserted island, each hiding a murderous...

Cost: See the website for fees.

Where:
Holly Springs Cultural Center
300 W. Ballentine St.
Holly Springs, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module

Magazine

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Directories

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2017-18 Education Guide offers 660 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our debut Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. Plus, find out who our 2017 Readers' Favorites are.