Unstructured Play Is Dead
Iâ€™ll be honest. I have no idea what unstructured play means. When I was a child in the 80s, I would ride my bike down the street to my friends’ houses. I could actually hear my mother call me in for dinner. I guess that was unstructured play, in the sense that my friends and I had no plans really and our parents let us be. But HELLO! – Â Itâ€™s 2013!
Every time I read the news (including on Mommyish) there are stories about rape, kidnapping, drugs, and shootings. So, will I let my 9-year-old play outside, or even with a friend outside alone? Absolutely not. Iâ€™m not an over-protective helicopter parent by any means. But people do not stop at stop signs in my area and most people still text and drive and I could never forgive myself if â€œunstructured playâ€ lead to an accident or death of my child.
She can walk to a friendâ€™s house when she gets a phone and thatâ€™s not happening just yet. In a previous piece, people were all over my ass for â€œover-schedulingâ€ my daughter. Maybe she is overscheduled â€“ to you. This is also, I suppose, â€œstructured play.â€ But I know my daughter better and being part of a play, singing in concerts, and dancing are her loves. For her, it IS play. Never once in her life has she said, â€œIâ€™m bored.â€ She has friends and has made new friends in these â€œstructuredâ€ activities. So Iâ€™m sorry. The way I see it for my kid and all her friends, â€œunstructured playâ€ is extinct, gone the way of the dinosaur.
I find it ironic that from the time your baby is born, people will tell you they need â€œroutines, routines, routinesâ€ and that â€œroutines, routines, routinesâ€ are good. Then, suddenly, one day, people are telling you that children need â€œunstructured playâ€ which is the complete opposite of routine. So which is it? Even by scheduling in â€œunstructured playâ€ makes it not structured at all. Or does it?
Usually on Saturday afternoons, my daughter has a playdate. Iâ€™m not the type of mother who hangs around during playdates. I stay out of their way when they hang out in my daughterâ€™s bedroom. I keep an ear open, but I do not participate. Is that unstructured play? I suppose so, if you consider 9-year-olds playing on iPads, ordering movies, or watching YouTube videos of Justin Bieber to beÂ unstructured play. Last time during her â€œunstructured playâ€ my daughter and her friend Googled Justin Bieberâ€™s phone number and they were so excited to tell me that they called him 10 times. When I asked to see the number, of COURSE, it was a long distance number. Canâ€™t wait to get that bill!
Because children, or at least my daughterâ€™s friends, donâ€™t have â€œunstructured playâ€ (all her friends take lessons, have tutors, ski lessons, etc.) not one of these kids actually knows â€“ like me â€“ what unstructured play means. If I told my daughter to â€œgo have some unstructured play!â€ sheâ€™d look at me as if Iâ€™d just asked her to multiple 176×28 in her head.