How Important is Unstructured Learning?

Are you guilty of micro-managing a child’s day? Do you plan out what they’re going to do, where they’re going to go and what they’re going to learn

Well, while supervised, adult-dictated activities have plenty of merit (after all, it’s the way our education system currently works, and children certainly need rules and guidance to flourish), there’s evidence to suggest that it’s actually a good idea for children to have some time that’s completely unstructured.

But why is this the case? Unstructured play (be it imaginative play, role play, art work or something else altogether), is known to be essential to the cognitive development of a child’s brain, as well as helping their physical, social and emotional wellbeing.

Scientists believe that learning through play is what helps children to ‘build a better brain’. 
A researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, explains that “the experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of the brain,” which in turn helps to ‘wire up’ the executive control centre. 

For this reason, ‘free play’ is so important because it develops the part of the brain has a central role in regulating emotions, solving problems and making plans. 

Moreover, unstructured learning provides children with autonomy and the opportunity to think for themselves, bridging the gap between imagination and creativity. The most sought-after trait among CEOs is creativity, and having some time outside of a rigid routine to flex their creative muscles provides the perfect opportunity to practice skills that will benefit them in later life.

Having time to think outside the box is good for everyone – whatever their profession – and practising this skill in childhood might mean that children go on to become better problem solvers in adulthood.

So, what can you do to facilitate unstructured learning?
While children need to have structured lessons with defined goals and measured outcomes, you could facilitate some unstructured learning by simply carving out some free time for children. 

Children should be comfortable with ‘not having something to do’, finding something to entertain themselves with or learning to be a little bit ‘bored’ rather than constantly occupiedUnscheduled time will allow ample opportunity for children to be creative, decompress and process some of what they’re experiencing every day.

Or, (while it sounds like a juxtaposition), you could deliberately schedule a space in a child’s daily routine for ‘no structure’ learning. This time could end up being used for imaginative role play (a great idea, as using their imagination helps children to become more empathetic and compassionate, as well as bolstering their confidence and social skills), or arts and crafts projects, for exampleThe key thing is that what is done with that time should be directed entirely by the child.

If a child chooses to create something in their unstructured time, equip them with the necessary materials such as paper, pens, glue and scissors, as well as decorative items and bits and pieces to make creations derived from their imaginations. Hold off from offering guidance or input. Remember – this is unstructured learningYou can buy stationery and arts and crafts products online from somewhere like wnw supplies, for instance, before asking children to produce artwork that’s self-directed and entirely what they want to produce. 

All in all, unstructured play is necessary for a child’s academic, social and emotional wellbeing. It will help children to direct themselves, discover and pursue their own interests, and bolster the belief that they’re capable of making good decisions for themselves - vital skills for sustaining their happiness and success throughout the rest of their lives. 

This is a collaborative post

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