9 Ways to Encourage Unstructured Play in ‘Bored’ Kids
Date Posted:7 February 2018
“Mum, Dad...I’m bored.”
You’ve heard it before, right? It almost makes you feel like a bad parent, doesn’t it? But should it?
When kids tell us that they are bored, we feel pressured into solving the “problem” right away. We might respond to their comment by providing technological entertainment or a structured activity. The problem with this, however, is that it’s counter-intuitive.
Children need to engage with the raw stuff that life is made of: unstructured time.
Why unstructured time is important
As a busy parent, you know only too well how important time management is. Without good time management, life can feel hectic and overwhelming.
For kids learning good time management, they must decide themselves how to spend their time. If you provide them with constant entertainment, they’ll never build up the time management skills they need.
Even more important, children need unstructured time for exploring their creativity and imagination. Unstructured play is how they learn to engage themselves in the world, to fantasise, invent and explore. It’s also when they discover their unique passions and how to respond to the stirrings in their brain and heart.
In short, unstructured play makes for a meaningful life. It might not come straight away, but give unstructured time regularly and your children will rise to the occasion.
Play prompts for unstructured play
Many parents confuse unstructured play with ‘leaving kids to work things out entirely on their own’, however it doesn’t have to be this way.
Unstructured play can be given a nudge by yourself or your partner, a grandparent, sibling or carer. This nudge usually comes in the form of leaving some toys, play dough, toilet paper tubes, a variety of tapes, a blanket or some sheets within eyes reach. The rest is up to them.
Unstructured play is really about the presentation and the ability for your child to guide their own play. Activities you might set out include:
When you give your child wooden toys such as wooden building blocks and animals, they are forced to engage and interact in a very different way to playing with push-button type toys. ‘Learning’ toys that sing ABCs or count along with your child are great, but they don’t encourage a lot of child-led play and interaction. Perfect play prompts for children aged 1+, wooden toys help develop coordination and early problem-solving skills.
Raincoat and boots
There’s an old adage that says, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. Remember this next time it’s raining. Leading your child outdoors is a giant invitation to play. It enables your child to enjoy the natural environment and there’s something fundamentally healthy about that. If you’re worried about your child getting wet and getting a cold, pop them in a nice warm bath following their outdoor activity.
Dress up clothes
When kids play dress ups, they are actively building their communication skills. Dressing up encourages their imagination, provides opportunity for social and emotional development, and teaches them to dream and live out those dreams through play. Pretend play lets your child explore new ideas and behaviours. There are no limits with dress up clothes and their minds can go anywhere.
Music ignites all areas of child development and skills for school readiness. It increases a toddler’s sensory development, improves literacy and numeracy, builds coordination, and can even improve your child’s overall mental health. Exposing kids early to music teaches them learn how the body and mind can work together. Picking up a musical instrument can also help your child break through their social shell.
If your child is relatively new to walking, push and pull toys are perfect. Push and pull toys build on the skills they’ve already developed, giving them support and guidance to build confidence and encourage them to move around more. If your child is older and comfortable on the move, push and pull toys are excellent for transporting things. Try placing a few stuffed toys and a blanket in a push cart and see where it will take them.
Tea parties are an excellent way to practice introductions, social talk, sharing and general etiquette. Children doling out pretend scones, cookies and of course tea, get a boost in cognitive, social, physical and emotional development. Your child will love mimicking real life and playing “grown up”, and their fine and gross motor skills develop with every pour, stir and handling of cups and plates. Set their favourite bears and dolls at our Boston Natural and White Table with 4 Chairs, lay out a Vintage Tea Set, and watch what happens!
A toy box is a fantastic way to rotate your children’s toys, allowing your child to fully engage with their toys without being overwhelmed. Toy rotation allows for toy mastery, more creativity, and critical thinking for your little one. It leads to schematic play rather than “scattered play”, which has stronger developmental benefits.
The idea behind toy rotation is to select just a few toys and books and swap them out every 5-7 days. Choose no more than 10 toys and books, but offer variety. Keep it interesting and make ‘checking what’s inside the toy box’ a game in itself.
Everyone needs a little space to call their own – even kids! A teepee offers a cosy space just for themselves and can serve as a permanent home for their favourite toys and books. Throw in a sheepskin or luxurious rug and a few plush cushions and it’s a prime spot for playing and reading. Offering that “cubby house” feel, a teepee adds a touch of adventure to child’s play. Plus, a teepee looks super cute in any kid’s bedroom or playroom!
If you want to take the idea of a teepee one step further, invest in a cubby house. Not only will a cubby house keep your child entertained for hours, it will encourage them to play outdoors more. Away from adult presence, a cubby house gives your child their own personal space to let their imagination run wild. It’s here that they’ll be given independence to grow, get creative, and develop strong traits.
Remember, encourage don’t instruct
Laying out these toys for your child are ways to “nudge” them into creative play. Set them up, make them look enticing, but give zero instruction for these prompts. Leave them be and let them surprise you with their play!