What is Structured Play for Young Children?

Have Fun Playing Games While Teaching Your Preschooler

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Can a child learn something even when they are playing a game and having fun? Absolutely! In the world of preschool education, this is called 'structured play' and it is one of the best ways for young children to learn new things.

Structured play can take on many forms. It can be any physical or mental activity that teaches preschool-aged children new skills. The skills can be basic knowledge or help with their physical development.

The goal of structured play is to have fun while teaching your child. Often, kids do not even know they are learning and adults have can have just as much fun devising new ways to keep the children active while learning!

What is Structured Play?

Structured play, or "play with a purpose," is any activity that offers your preschooler a specific learning objective. It could be learning a certain life skill like teaching the months of the year or working on important physical abilities such as gross and fine motor skills.

Structured play activities and games are generally instructor-led. A parent, teacher or other trusted adult (even an older sibling) sets the tone for the play. The adult then helps the preschooler either meet their goals or reviews the learning objective.

Examples of Structured Play

Structured play, despite the serious and stiff-sounding name, is definitely giving kids a chance to have fun, it just has a lofty goal at its heart.

Structured doesn't even have to be all that organized or formal, either. Simply teaching a child how to throw by having your preschooler toss a ball into a laundry basket is a form of structured play.

Other examples of structured play include:

  • Board games
  • Puzzles
  • Sorting games
  • Games that encourage following directions such as "Simon Says."
  • Any type of class you may enroll your child in such as music.
  • Organized sports teams or classes such as soccer or swim.

Structured Play and Everyday Household Tasks

Parents can get creative with their preschooler and incorporate play into your family's everyday activities and chores. Getting your child involved in things like sorting the laundry or picking up their toys teaches responsibility and other skills while they think they're just having fun.

  • Laundry - Have your preschooler join you while folding the laundry. Teach them how to identify a matching pair of socks and sort one family member's clothes from another.
  • Toy Clean Up - Give your child a goal when it comes to picking up their toys. For instance, challenge them to pick up as many toys as they can in five minutes. Create a 'stop' and 'go game out of it where they have to freeze in place when you say 'stop.' Work on sorting toys by color or group them by style (stuffed animals vs. building blocks) and teach them how to put each in a certain place.
  • Around the House - Make moving from one room to another fun by asking your child to bunny hop or skip to the bathroom to brush their teeth. Turn on music while they watch you cook and play freeze dance to keep them moving.
  • Yard Work - Challenge your preschooler to pick up as many small twigs as they can after a wind storm. Ask them to help you plant flowers or seeds in the garden and explain which vegetables they get to eat when the plant grows. They can continue to help in small ways as the garden matures (ahem, pulling weeds) and learn the cycles of nature.

How Much Play Should a Preschooler Have?

According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, preschoolers should accumulate at least one hour of structured physical activity every day. It can be hard for a preschooler to focus on one task for an hour, so many experts suggest breaking the play up into smaller 15- or 20-minute chunks.

This will also allow for a variety of activities throughout the day. Also, your preschooler is more likely to be interested in following the rules and paying attention to what it is you are trying to impart while you play.

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