Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thinking Thursdays: The value of unstructured playtime

Junior J loves playing on his own.  Since we don't have a maid, there are times each day where I need to leave the boy on his own while I cook/clean/wash-up.  On good days where the boy isn't clingy, the little boy usually gets up to his own devices, and sometimes surprises us with the funny things he would do:

The boy loves having picnics with his animal friends, and would let them all huddle around the food...

... or would line up the food to allow for easy access!

The aftermath after a cupcake party with his bath toys, where there was alot of "Happy Birthday ____!" (insert name of animal).  He's termed each of the containers as a "cupcake", and even tried to match the colours of the animals to the containers...

This kept him busy while I was washing up after dinner one day:
He lined up all the dining room chairs and stools and decided to crawl across the row repeatedly!

I do admit I do feel a little guilty about leaving the boy to play on his own for such a long time each day, and wish I had more time to sit down with him to play/engage in structured activities.  Some mornings, there's the laundry to hang, plus lunch to prepare, dishes to wash blah blah, which keeps me busy for more than an hour, and usually the boy is quite ok playing alone without me having to prepare something to keep him occupied with.  It did bug me a little, until I came across this article regarding unstructured play.  Apparently, unstructured play encourages the development of a skill known as executive function, which encompasses the ability to self-regulate.  Self-regulation is key for the controlling of one's emotions and behaviours, and the exertion of self-control and discipline.

So I guess old-fashioned play does have its role in learning.  After all, most of our parents used to leave us to potter about on our own.  Structured learning activities were not so common last time, but we more or less ended up ok.  What do you think?  Does your kid enjoy "pottering around" on his/her own too?


  1. Your post inspired me to write something similar. Hope you don't mind I've linked it back to your blog.

  2. My 2 years old too like to line and stag things up, sometimes pillows while another time toys. Yeah... I reckon unstructured play might help to develop kids' imagination, creativity and innovative, still most kids would prefer their parents(especially mommy) to attend thm. I feel sorry for my kids too... moreover with 2 kids, personal time for each kid will seriously disrupted.:(

  3. Hmm...interesting article!

    I do remember as a child I would play with things like lego and other building sets (still a bit of focused play), but I still had plenty of fun imagining stories about them, making robots, getting them to go places and all that. Those were some of the most fun times =) So, it's alright to leave him to play a little on his own I think...but once his little bro is around, I think they'll have even more to do and imagine together!! =D

  4. Jillian: Hey, thanks for linking up! I throughly enjoyed reading your post... :)

    Alice Law: J loves to meddle with pillows too! :) And I guess as they get older, they are more adept at playing on their own? At least the 2 of them can play with each other if they are left to their own devices... :) Hang in there!

    Evergreen: You have a point there... I'm looking forward to the time when number 2 is able to play more and the 2 of them get to play together! :)

  5. I share that very same guilt till today. When no.2 arrived, personal time with no.1 has reduced so much. Even more so as I breastfeed the little one. It will take quite some years before both can play together. In the meantime, I would just make sure her books & toys are easily reached.

  6. Ahjune: I do understand! And with our 2nd child coming along, there's going to be less time to spend with Junior J...

    However, at least we know that there is value in letting the kids play on their own, since they do build on their creativity and learn, even while doing seemingly "non-educational" things! ;) Hang in there!

  7. I personally see nothing wrong with it. Encourages independence and creativity if nothing else :)

  8. i can understand your guilt. After the arrival of no2, he's been pretty much left on his own. I cannot even find time to sit down and join in his unstructured or structured play. So, i've been feeling very guilty. But, what comforts me is, i know he's actually quite happy playing by himself- and i figured that's more important. Yes, i do see the good in unstructured play! however, do spend whatever time you have before no2 pops out!!

  9. I think it is wonderful that J is able to play on his own and with such imagination! I'm sure that will help put your mind at ease (at least a little!) when your next baby comes along.

  10. Madeline: Agreed!

    Homeschool@SG: Thanks for the reminder... well, I know that you really did spend alot of time and effort teaching him and planning activities for him before your number 2 came, so don't feel guilty cos I think you did a great job teaching him! Now that he's older, I think they're probably quite good at playing on their own, and enjoying it too... Hang in there mummy!

    Corsage: Yup it will, since we know he's capable of pottering around on his own while we are attending to the needs of number 2... :)



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