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MANN: Unstructured vs. organized play for kids

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March 15, 2018 - 12:00 PM

OPINION


Today I am recovering from the stress of activity sign ups.

It’s a real thing.

I didn’t know what it was all about until I had the great idea (actually my friend had the great idea) of signing my daughter up for soccer.

Sure I thought to myself, she would probably love soccer.

So my friend sent me the dates and times and such and such, and in turn I made a mental note and then went back to saving my son from his sister’s karate chopping limbs.

And then the days went by and suddenly it was the night before registration.

I hadn’t done a thing.

So in a panic I spent an hour and a half on hold (between two separate phone calls) and ended up opting to wake up early the next day due to my failure to plan ahead.

The problem with mental notes is they do tend to walk away on you if you don’t write them down.

But in the end I was able to register successfully, in my pyjamas, at home with a baby on my hip.

Having children means being welcomed into this world of endless activities — sports, clubs, song groups, etc.

I’m not complaining; I think it’s great.

And there never seems to be a too-young-to-start threshold. If anything the idea of not starting soon enough weighs heavy on a parent’s mind.

Are you doing enough for your child? That’s the big question that can lay painfully on your chest.

As a parent with young children, I’ve heard of two common ideas tossed around — organized actives and unstructured play, and there is quite push for both.

Unstructured play, as I understand it, is allowing children to learn through exploration without any kind of formal instruction. Parents and mentors are always on hand to guide and answer questions, but children take the reigns when it comes to discovering what they like and how things work.

When I think about unstructured play, I think about children learning about the fun of a cardboard box or putting clothing anywhere other than where it actually belongs — mastering categories. It’s silly and spontaneous, but I know they are learning something in their little brains, and we as parents might not even see what that is right away. 

Organized activities make me think more about structured play — activities with clear objectives and someone other than the child is calling the shots.

When I think about organized activities, I think about sports and worksheets and focus groups and milestones. I think about comparisons and positions and competition.

So which is better? Which one should I be more concerned about?

Is it advantageous to fight the line-ups and register for as many different organized activities as possible, or is a day at the park just as much of a learning experience?

Or, is it just like everything else in life, always better in moderation (except for cupcakes, for which there is no ‘moderation’).


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