By Emma S.
We live in a busy, fast paced society where unstructured play sometimes gets overlooked. As a kid, I was encouraged to go outside to play and explore as well as go to the local park as long as I told my parents where I was going. My favorite thing to do was play grounders on the play structures with a group of people. I would also meet my friend who lived down the street to go for walks around the subdivision. But over time I have noticed a decrease in children playing outdoors in my neighborhood. Whether this is due to a lack of time for parents to play with their kid, an unsafe environment or distractions by other things such as technology, kids seem to be playing outdoors less. It is quite common to drive past a playground and see no kids playing. It was reported that only 37% of 11-15 year olds in Canada report playing outdoors for several hours a day outside school hours (ParticipACTION, 2016, p. 21). This is something to note because unstructured play contributes to youth development by improving physical, emotional, social and cognitive development and it should be promoted as much as possible (ParticipACTION, 2016, p. 22). It also gives youth the opportunity to explore and be curious (Brown, 2009) and to use their creativity to come up with solutions.
Although parents may have many positive memories from their childhood with regards to playing outdoors, the concern over the safety of their child will likely overpower these positive memories. 51% of parents with 0-18 year old children say that they would like their child to play outdoors more but are too worried about their safety (ParticipACTION, 2016, p. 22). By worrying about things that may or may not happen, we are taking away from the positive benefits youth can acquire by unstructured play. Key things adults will do regarding this is removing all the “fun” play structures at schools because a kid broke their arm or was hurt in another way (Levesque, 2017). Instead of teaching kids the fundamental skills to not hurt themselves or how to fall properly, we take the equipment away or try and limit the games they play to ones we consider safe (ParticiPACTION, 2016). Unstructured play will provide kids with the opportunities to develop fundamental skills crucial for everyday life. It will also allow kids the creativity to make decisions about how they are going to tackle a task while playing. However, it is important to have a balance between structured and unstructured play.
Participating in unstructured play is also beneficial when playing on a specific sport team. A quote by Bowers & Green (2013) stated “informal sports lets them be creative and lets them take risks so that they learn what they do and do not feel comfortable doing in an organized, evaluated setting” (p. 429). This is really important. If youth are not given the opportunity to play for themselves, they may never push themselves out of fear of failure in the organized setting. This could potentially lead to higher drop out rates if youth feel like they are not performing to their capacity. Youth participating in unstructured play with their friends will allow new skill development and different ways of doing things without the pressure that can get placed on them when in a structured setting by coaches, leaders, parents, and teammates.
Youth may gain the sense of importance when adults support their developmental process by encouraging their participation in unstructured play. It will show youth that adults care about their development and that they are valued in their community as assets in the making. It may also provide youth with the determination to become contributors in their community because they want to be apart of something greater from their time participating in an unstructured setting (Bowers & Green, 2013).
Bowers, M.T., Green, B.C. (2013). Reconstructing the community-based youth sport experience: how children derive meaning from unstructured and organized settings. Journal of sport management. 26(6), 422-438
Brown, S. (2009). Play is more than just fun. TEDtalks.com. https://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital Retrieved October 6, 2017
Levesque, C. (2017). Educating Physical Literacy. RSS 3042.
ParticipACTION. (2016). Are Canadian kids too tired to move? The 2016 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. Toronto: ParticipACTION