Why unstructured play is crucial to a child’s development

Jun 16, 2023, 4:15 PM | Updated: Jun 20, 2023, 2:43 pm

SALT LAKE CITY —  Imagination and play are key to healthy childhood development, and different types of play impact how a child develops.

Paris Matthews, a certified child life specialist at Primary Children’s Hospital said it’s important to incorporate both structured and unstructured play.

“Structured play is when following set rules, guidelines, games, puzzles, sports,” Matthews said. “Unstructured play is when they have no rules or set guidelines.”

Matthews said unstructured play is crucial to a child’s development.

“Unstructured play is really increasing a child’s development, emotional skills, creativity and boosts cognitive development,” she said.

Chelsie Brown is a mom to 7-year-old Eloise and her older brother, 9-year-old Corbin, she said she lets her kids guide the play.

“I think the role of a parent is to give them the space and equipment to do whatever they want to do and then give them permission to take it and run with it,” Brown said.

Matthews said it can be hard for parents to not lead but if they step back, the child’s imagination will fly.

She said it’s important to include both structured and unstructured play in your child’s life.

“Research shows that kids who don’t engage in unstructured play have increase in general unhappiness, anxiety and poor social skills as adults,” Matthews said.

Brown said she has witnessed the benefits, as her kids’ personalities have really started to blossom.

“Once you get started and let your kids do what they want to do it’s really fun and really exciting to see their personalities take form,” she said.

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Why unstructured play is crucial to a child’s development