The Role of Play in Childcare

It’s Playtime – But That’s Not All It Is!

Playtime in childhood means so much more than having fun.  Play is vital to a child’s healthy development as it contributes to cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being. In addition, play is also very beneficial to mental health as it may help reduce depression, anxiety, aggression, and sleep problems. When a child plays, they naturally stretch their creativity and physical, mental resilience. During play, children can form their own expanding world with specific rules and settings. As they challenge and master their world, they can effectively acquire competencies with a strong sense of confidence and security. Because a child’s brain is so malleable and formative during their first five years, effective and productive play induces strong growth and development at a time when it can impact them for life.

Unstructured Play vs. Structured Play – What’s the Difference?

In general, children’s play activities can take two different forms: structured play and unstructured play. Each has distinctive qualities, and both are beneficial for a child’s comprehensive effective learning and growth.

Unstructured play, which is sometimes called free play, has no specific goals or intention from the child’s perspective. It is open-ended, creative free play that gets improvised with unlimited possibilities. A child leads and directs their own play, and as a result, there is no required outcome or product at the end. Unstructured play is constructive in stimulating and inspiring children’s creativity, imagination, planning, coordinating, presentation, decision-making as well as the development of overall emotional expression and social skills. Being the author and the boss of their own play, children acquire the sense of enhanced ownership and accountability and actively seek for better ways to solve problems. In addition, because they are ‘in control’ of their own playing and learning, children are naturally trained to stay patient and focused for a longer period with higher levels of motivation.

Some examples of unstructured play are:

  • Free construction with blocks
  • Drawing, colouring and/or painting on blank paper
  • Inventing imaginative games to play with various recycled, repurposed materials
  • Exploring play spaces such as backyards, corners of a room, parks, playgrounds, etc.


On the other hand, structured play, also known as goal play or guided play, may generally be planned and directed by adults with specific tasks and goals for children to tackle, but it is still play and it’s still fun! Structured play (or guided play) promotes Early Childhood Learning and includes all the great benefits of unstructured play. Children can still explore creativity, imagination, planning, coordinating, presentation and decision making in a structured play environment, while achieving goals and outcomes. For example: simply playing a game is structured play. The structure is the construct and rules of the game itself. Within the game, children can play, and still have a great amount of fun. While structured play does not need to be formal or highly organized, it usually includes activities that require enhanced physical and cognitive challenges. Because play is planned and studied ahead of time for specific targets and goals, structured play becomes an excellent opportunity for teachers to introduce children to new objects and ideas that may not have been discovered on their own. It also ties a positive experience to learning for children. Because they get to discover new ideas and skills while having lots of fun, children experience the joy of learning and gain a strong intrinsic motivation to try more challenging tasks. Moreover, structured play is great to promote a child’s balanced physical, emotional, cognitive, and social well-being by introducing various types of activities ensuring their learning is not lopsided.

Examples of structured play include:

  • Building physical strength, balance, and coordination by initiating movement games that encourage the development of motor skills like hammering pumpkins or glow in the dark alphabet scavenger hunt
  • Role playing to observe and understand the circumstances through different angles and perspectives
  • Teaching language including learning new vocabulary and grammar through play like alphabet phonetic sorting step by step
  • Group play to teach respecting boundaries of other people and self-control

What is The Role of Play in Childcare Specifically?

At Core Education & Fine Arts (CEFA), play is both unstructured and structured. Both are important and a balance is necessary. There are advantages for children to have both as they play an important role in helping children develop problem-solving skills and navigate difficult social situations. Through play, CEFA students can practice literacy and language skills and learn about science and math as they explore their own expanding worlds – imaginary or not imaginary.

Play is an essential component of the CEFA curriculum as it’s a healthy way for a child to learn and grow. CEFA provides a safe place and age-appropriate supplies and assistance for both types of play, the structured and the unstructured. Children are fully immersed in different types of original, thought-provoking play activities. CEFA students reap the rewards from always learning and playing – not just learning and not just playing.

We are very intentional with our curriculum. Our types of play are multi-faceted. We not only incorporate basic core skills such as reading, writing, mathematics, and science in our play but also coding, dance, music, drama, creative play, and visual arts to provide children with the freedom to grow through experimental learning and play. CEFA students develop and play along with other children of the same age and intellectual level. This plays a very important role in childhood development.

The role of play in our exclusive Cultural Immersion, Yoga, Community Service, and Outdoor & Nature Programs is also important. Children prepare for the demands of tomorrow and become change-makers who bring positive impacts in their spheres of influence. Learning is not an activity that should only be done for a short set period; it is a life-long activity. We want our students to find, understand and acquire the profound magnitude and true joy of learning at an early age. We believe such insight and attitude will pay back powerfully throughout their lifetime.

At CEFA, our award-wining curriculum creates a strong foundation for our students at a young age using purposefully designed structured play to promote development and growth in the whole child – emotionally, socially, physically, and mentally. We make sure learning is always fun. By entrusting your beloved child to our Early Learning Experts, you’ll be able to watch your child grow and glow!

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