Pros and Cons: Structured vs. free play

When it comes to playing, it’s important to strike a balance between structured and free play. We discuss what’s best for toddlers.


tructured vs. free playStructured play is organised and guided by an adult, giving the child a sense of direction.Although playing is obviously a lot of fun, it’s also the primary way that toddlers learn how to interact with the world. Playing encourages physical growth, improves motor skills and develops key social skills. Whether we’re talking about structured or free play, it’s important for your toddler to have a bit of both during playtime.

Structured play Pros
  • There are set objectives, a set time and set rules, which makes it measurable and encourages the child to learn boundaries.
  • Structured play helps children to learn skills they need for pre-school and develop important social skills like working in a group and co-operation.
  • It helps prepare them to advance academically.
  • It increases physical and motor skills.
  • Structured play encourages self-discipline, perseverance and listening skills.
  • It also helps children to investigate areas that they wouldn’t normally choose.
  • Structured play can help children to accomplish more as they learn to complete tasks from beginning to end.
Structured play Cons
  • Structured play alone doesn’t allow a child to explore alternative solutions to things.
  • It can be seen as rigid and formal.
  • Structured play doesn’t encourage the use of limitless creativity.
  • Everything takes place within boundaries, there is little room for improvisation.
  • It makes children adhere to the type of activity chosen for them, even if they may not be interested in it.
Free play Pros
  • Free play gives children a lot more freedom as they can initiate it and play alone or with other children.
  • Free play allows a child to explore their own capacity and abilities without putting pressure on them.
  • Free play makes use of a child’s imagination, decision-making, creativity, innovation, and social skills.
  • It is an active process and does not focus on one end product.
  • Free play doesn’t put up boundaries for children. 
  • It allows the child to make use of and explore what they know and feel.
  • Free play can encourage better problem-solving skills through creativity.
Free play Cons
  • There is minimal adult supervision or input, which can result in chaos and disorder (and sometimes tears!).
  • Free play alone does not assist a child in learning skills they don’t like.
  • It can be seen as too limitless and without any form of boundaries.
  • Free play allows a child to focus only on the areas they enjoy instead of being challenged by new activities. 
There is great worth in both structured and free play, and the ideal situation is for your child to have a bit of both during playtime. What type of play does your child enjoy more?

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