A Parent’s Guide To: Structured Play

By October 25, 2016Education, Fun

At Kneehigh Nursery, we focus on play as the most beneficial educational activity for children under the age of 5, and we focus on integrating structured, learning-driven play and activities into our daily schedule. Since this is such a big part of what your child will get up to during the time that they spend with us, we thought it would be a good idea to share a little more about structured play: what it is, how it works and why it benefits your child.

The essential difference between structured play and what we might call ‘unstructured’ play, is the inclusion of objectives or goals, usually provided by an adult – such as yourselves, or us. Unlike lessons, these will still be fun and based in what feels like a game for the children taking part, however they will also ensure that a learning objective is being met! When your child is off playing on their own, letting their imagination run wild, they are more likely to be engaged in unstructured play. Both are just as important for healthy development… they’re just different, and unstructured play is more likely to take place at home or during break times.

So, what can structured play be used for? Well, the possibilities are huge: we can use it to help learn vital skills such as recognising colours and shapes, for improving physical skills, for monitoring your child’s development and even for helping with social development. All of these objectives are vital parts of any child’s nursery age learning, as they will help to ensure that they’re fully prepared for the new world of school.

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Activities that count as structured play might include matching games, sorting things or finding things, puzzles, craft activities, board games, ‘rhyme time’… the list goes on! As you can see, these aren’t the type of activities that will put children off exploring the world and learning more and more, but rather fun and exciting activities that will only encourage them to engage more. This is one of the reasons that structured play is so successful; it allows children to enjoy the process of learning new skills for the first time, making it far less likely that they’ll give up and become frustrated.

Our role in all of this is to offer help, guidance and encouragement, and if you decide to practice structured play in your home then you’ll find that your role is very much the same! Fostering independence certainly doesn’t mean leaving children to their own devices, but rather gently encouraging them to try new solutions, to engage with their peers and to find the activities that appeal to them the most.

A lot of parents may be wondering: should you provide structured play at home as well as letting your kids enjoy it while they’re with us? Well, the advice is that you shouldn’t try to replace all of your child’s play with structured activity – not very play session should be given an objective or task to complete – however, you could help your child’s development by providing them with at least one hour of structured play activities per day (especially on the days when they’re not with us!). This should ideally be broken down into smaller chunks of time, as 60 minutes is a lot of time to ask a toddler to concentrate.

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The most important thing is to strike a balance between offering the opportunity for your child to use play as a chance to develop new ideas, and avoiding limiting their exploration by being too restrictive. With a gentle nudge towards specific learning objectives, or simply by setting out materials that will be sure to help with fine motor skills, you can be a lot more successful than with a meticulously planned and very rigid activity. This is because, at such a young age, a child’s development comes from their own interactions with the world – discovering things for themselves.


Would you like to know more about the childcare services that we offer here at Kneehigh Nursery in Newquay? If you think that your child could benefit from our kid-first approach, get in touch at 01637 876 293 or email sarahsknee@hotmail.co.uk.




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