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Unstructured Play

In June, temperatures rise and our thoughts turn to easy living. Children look forward to time away from books and school. In recent years, childhood has become very structured. Summer camps, lessons, learning centres and the ever present screen time dominate our children’s lives.

The unstructured play time of playing with neighbourhood kids until suppertime only to begrudgingly go home to our parents’ calls seem to be a thing of the past. There is much value to unstructured play time. In a 2012 article in the journal Cerebrum, the authors pointed to the importance of play in reducing stress in children. 

Play is central to learning in children. It is a covert operation that teaches far more than spelling and math drills.  In addition, it benefits physical well-being. In an epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes, this is a very important benefit. 

Play also teaches socialization. Negotiation tactics and empathy are learned on the playground. There are emotional benefits to play. There are cognitive benefits to play as well. Memory and creative abilities are enhanced through play. We take on roles when we play house, try on persona in imaginative play and see where we fit in the world.  

Allowing children time for unstructured play also has another hidden benefit. It gives children autonomy and agency.  They are given the message that they can be masters of their own fates.

As you plan your children’s summer, book the science and engineering camp, the swim and soccer camps, but leave some time for something unregulated and amorphous. The benefits are emormous!


Dr. Bhooma Bhayana is a family physician in London and the mother of two young men and grandmother of one lovely princess! She continues to find wonder and enjoyment in family practice despite more than 30 years on the job!


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