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Let The Kids Play: The Benefits of Unstructured Play

By Muskaan Walia

To raise healthy, well-rounded kids, parents and gaurdians are finding themselves busier than ever. They work long hours and then come home to overbooked schedules filled with soccer lessons, swim meets, gymnastics intramurals, and math tutoring. Not only is this resulting in exhausted children complaining of feelings of anxiety and stress all the time, but is also affecting the mental (and not to forget pockets) of parents as they are finding themselves with barely any time to spare. This leads us to the question, are all these commitments necessary to raise healthy, active children? Research shows that children aged 6 and over need at least one hour of moderate to vigorous activity, but ironically enough they aren’t even getting half of that through the structured activities they are being put through! This is because structured activity uses a great portion of its time explaining rules and procedures, which although is important in its own respect, is resulting in shortened levels of the activity actually being played. Another factor to take into account is that all children must be on board before the game can start, so sometimes children are left waiting for several minutes while everyone else catches on. Now the question is, where and how can children get the vigorous activity that their growing bodies need? The answer is simple; through unstructured play.

Unstructured play is a set of activities that children come up with using their own imagination and without any adult intervention. It requires no additional setup, but children are free to use a ball, hoops or whatever is readily available for them in their environment. According to the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) it is vital for healthy development as it aids in creativity, cognitive development, teaches problem-solving and develops social skills. It is also great for increasing activity levels as children are free to move about as they please without any rules that require them to await instruction. Head Start has also found children who received unstructured play routinely in their schedules report lower levels of obesity and greater test scores. Alongside all these benefits for children, it is also a great option for parents with financial and time limitations. All it requires from parents are providing a safe environment for children to play in as they please. For younger children parents are encouraged to supervise from a distance especially if it is a larger area, but just be careful not to intervene! 

Highlights from Fast and Female’s Champ Chat at Our Lady of Peace School in Calgary, AB, on December 3, 2018. 

Make your life easier and open your childrens’ doors to free play.

For further information on the CPHA and their recommendations regarding free play, please see 

To learn more about Fast and Female’s event and programming and how we impact girls ages 8 – 14, visit our about page