Unstructured play using everyday objects provides opportunities for tamariki to use their imagination, supporting their creativity, emotional development, and problem-solving skills.
Unstructured play (sometimes called free play) sounds fancy, but only means play that tamariki spontaneously lead, is free from adult rules and intervention, and uses ‘things’ that don’t serve a particular purpose. These may include everyday objects like kōhatu kōhatu Stone, rock Maori | Noun , rākau rākau Tree, stick, timber, wood, plant Maori | Noun , string, art supplies, a ball or blocks, or kitchen items.
Heuristic play is another name for unstructured, free play. The kind of play where pēpi and tamariki interact with everyday objects instead of proper toys, providing an opportunity for open-ended discovery.
What might it look like?
An example of unstructured play might be that when whānau are pegging up washing, pēpi joins them. Pēpi enjoys taking the pegs from the container and lining these up. Pēpi then uses the pegs as cars racing each other and progresses to using their imagination in driving a car, miming the steering wheel in their hands.
Whānau can contribute to the learning opportunity by commenting on what pēpi is doing: “You’ve got 1, 2, 3 pegs pēpi, all lined up. A red one, a kōwhai kōwhai Be yellow (in colour) Maori | Adjective one…” They might also make car noises and run around the lawn following pēpi and where they lead this playtime.
Why is this kind of play important?
Research shows that unstructured playtime fosters children’s imagination, creativity and ideas as they ‘invent’ their own games and activities.
Often unstructured play includes other people or imagined people which supports tamariki to develop social skills, positive interactions and problem-solving.
It’s also important in promoting independence because they decide what happens next and build confidence in their decision-making abilities.
As well as this it supports physical development – running, jumping, hopping, skipping or fine motor skills when they choose something less active, like playing with pegs.
There are many benefits to unstructured play opportunities for tamariki. Kindergartens, preschools, kōhanga reo kōhanga reo Māori language preschool Maori | Noun and kura kura School Maori | Noun also offer unstructured play to support learning because it allows tamariki to explore in the ways that suit their learning style and with their interests in mind. Unstructured play is now known to support curiosity in order for tamariki to keep exploring and finding things out while having fun!