Go anywhere – from the obvious places like playgrounds to the common places like void decks, you’d see young kids coming together for some form of games. Apart from getting a good sweat session, these games are also important for children to learn how settle disputes, solve problems and form relationships.
Types of Play
Let’s talk about the three kinds of play – structured, semi-structured and unstructured. The best way to explain structured play is through an example and sports is an example of structured play. Rules confining how to play, what to play with and whom to play with are pre-defined. Children get no say in it.
Unstructured play is the complete opposite, in which children get to decide all elements of the game. You see this best when children come together in informal groups, decide the number of people who’s catching and the physical boundaries whereby everyone has to stick within. Children get absolute say in the play.
Semi-structured plays in the middle of this spectrum. It typically has a specific, pre-defined learning objective but children are allowed to explore and learn in independent ways. This is most common in our physical education (PE) classes. The PE teacher demonstrates how to throw-and-catch properly, and students break into smaller groups to practise.
Current Situation with Unstructured Play
At the top level, children have less free time in a week than they had before. We know that now apart from the usual musical, sporting and theatre enrichment classes, there’s coding – the new buzz in town.
Children have 12 percent less free time per week compared to 20 years ago. The way in which children spend their free time has also changed. Participation in outdoor activities decreased 50 percent and unstructured, free play decreased 25 percent.
Most interestingly, Lego Learning Institute has found that although most parents recognised play as a valid form of learning, they preferred only certain forms of play. More parents preferred their child playing in structured environments than unstructured ones (Source).
Advantages of Unstructured Play
The nature of unstructured play encourages creativity, sparks intrinsic motivation and a love for physical activity, and stimulates social emotional learning. Without external intervention and confines on the type and nature of play, children are challenged to throw out ideas, negotiate and compromise, work in teams and manage failures and successes. In addition, unstructured play in a school context promotes classroom learning as well because it serves as a mental break from doing classwork or performing sports-specific practice.
That’s why an important component we add in SMFB Neighbourhoods and SMFB Accelerate is the Breakout session – in which we empower participants to design their own workout, game or activity for the rest of the group.
It returns the choice to them and allows transformational learning to come out of it.