September 2021 Newsletter – Increasing Opportunities for Free Play: Play throughout the Day

Play throughout the Day

When reflecting on the amount of play in your program, take time to identify instances of structured play and free play in the daily routine. Structured play occurs whenever adults direct or guide children’s play. Playing a planned game on the playground or setting up a small group sorting activity are examples of structured play.  When children take the lead and design their own play experiences, they are engaged in free play.

Both types of play have developmental value and should be promoted in early childhood. However, be mindful of the balance of structured play versus free play in the daily schedule. It can be hard to strike a balance, especially when curriculum demands are in place. Look for opportunities to provide large chunks of time for children to take control of their exploration of the materials in the environment.  Here are a few things to consider:

  • Large group –Rather than spending time in class meetings working on individual academic skills, such as memorizing colors and shapes, use large group time to build community and relationships between children and adults. Singing songs, acting out stories, and playing games during class meetings can help children get to know one another and build strong connections.
  • Small group – Typically, small group time is teacher-designed, structured play. Small group time is an excellent opportunity to work with children on academic concepts and language development. Working with small groups allows teachers to pay close attention to what children already know and make note of emerging skills. These play opportunities should utilize hands-on exploration of concepts and materials rather than coloring pages or workbook pages.
  • Routines – Teachers can incorporate playful activities into the transitions and daily routines. Again, these experiences would be considered structured play, because of the adult-led nature of the activities. Dancing, make-believe, and silly word games can all be used to playfully enhance elements of the daily routine.
  • Learning centers – Learning center exploration is one opportunity to promote free play in early learning environments. By choosing interesting, developmentally appropriate materials, teachers can set the stage for children to utilize their creativity and ingenuity in unique ways. Set up space for children to explore construction, drama, literacy, science, art, music, and manipulatives together. Teachers can plan activities for learning centers, but remember, we are looking for opportunities to add more free play into the day, so these areas should not be structured for children 100% of the time.
  • Outdoor/Gross motor play – Outdoor and gross motor play are other times when teachers can either plan activities or allow children to explore materials independently. It is a good idea to have a few planned activities in your back pocket that you can use if some children appear disengaged. Note that these periods of the day do not always have to include a teacher-led activity.

Remember, teachers should attempt to create a balance between teacher-led and child-led play each day, perhaps even tilting toward more free play on some days. This can reduce frustration and boost child development and engagement.

For the main article Increasing Opportunities for Free Play, CLICK HERE

For the article Adaptations to Promote Free Play, CLICK HERE

For the article Incorporating Loose Parts, CLICK HERE

For the article Director’s Corner – Increasing Opportunities for Employees to Play, CLICK HERE