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Structured and Unstructured Play Ideas

Unstructured Play


Unstructured play is when children are largely left to their own devices. It allows children to develop their language skills, recreate experiences and try out skills in a 'safe' way. Essentially, they are using what they 'already know' to consolidate theur understanding. For example, your child may use their counting skills to set the table for a pretend tea party "we need two cups".  At school, this time is referred to as 'choosing', as the children are choosing what they want to do. In order for unstructured play to take place, children will need access to some toys - if like me you are bit guilty of tidying everything away into it's place, make sure you get things out so your child has access to them.  And that really is all you need to do! Here is a list of things that your child might like to do at choosing time (independently so you can hopefully get some things done that you need to do).


  • Lego
  • Drawing
  • Colouring
  • Playing with Play Dough
  • Playing in a sand pit (if you have one).
  • Play with water - a bowl will do if you don't have a water tray.
  • Babies
  • Dinosaurs
  • Barbies
  • Threading
  • Dressing up
  • Playing shops or homes
  • Singing and dancing to favourite music
  • Train track
  • Cars
  • Duplo
  • Kinetic sand
  • Moon Dough
  • Looking at a book
  • Play figures - super heroes, paw patrol, barbie, lol, peppa pig etc
  • Making mud pies
  • Making potions
  • Sticklebricks
  • Playing schools
  • Playing in a den
  • Aquabeads
  • Stencils
  • Playing with slime or gloop
  • Chalk drawings
  • Riding a bike or a scooter


As you can see the list is quite extensive. Basically it is anything your child can do independently. It will allow for everyone to have a bit of down time, and means you can save the ipad and TV for when you really need it!


Structured Play


Structured play is when an adult intervenes in children's play to help them move their learning on. Essentially, it means we are playing with our children to help them learn.  At school this takes place during choosing time, but would involve an adult being at the table with the children to guide their learning. Some examples of structured play include:


  • Doing a jigsaw
  • Playing Snakes and Ladders
  • Baking
  • Gardening
  • Playing orchard games such as the cupcake game
  • Top trumps
  • Trickier crafts that require supervision
  • Making play dough (ready to play with)
  • Helping make lunch or breakfast
  • Playing hopscotch (you can make one with large chalks or failing that a stone)
  • Counting how many skips you can do
  • Using language such as 'full' and 'empty' when playing with sand and water.
  • Playing games that require turn taking.
  • Encouraging any writing through play. e.g. if your child is playing shops, ask them to write a list. If you are playing tea party, ask them to write a menu or write down orders.
  • Use water balloons or a water pistol and aim at number, letter or key word targets (I to no go into was is)
  • Make a number track to roll cars along - make a ramp and see what number your car lands on.
  • Chalk numbered parking spots to park up bikes and scooters.
  • Use sticks to practise letters in the mud.
  • Count flowers or bees in the garden.
  • Go on a bug hunt and name the insects you find. Count their legs!
  • Play catch and count how many times you can catch the ball before someone drops it.
  • Listen to a story read by a grown up.
  • Make a sock puppet
  • Do some junk modelling (talk about the shapes you are using and help children acquire skills in joining). 
  • Do some 'step by step' crafts.
  • And not forgetting all the educational games you can access from the suggested website list.


There is a brilliant website called 'the imagination tree' that has loads of ideas for play based learning. Let's make our little ones afternoons fun!