Building a routine of unstructured play

There comes a time in every toddlers life when dumping and filling is the best thing ever to do.

Now comes the battle because they don’t discriminate with what to dump or where they dump. Both those situations cause us as parents to be listening to those quiet times because although they are lovely for us they also can spell TROUBLE.

Toddlers can concentrate for a long time perfecting the same activity with minor variations. This unstructured time is crucial with toddler development. Yet it is exactly what we limit at most times because it’s the WRONG time or thing.

We have a few areas in the house that if you set out a few unstructured toys the LO will stay there and play  for a while.

If we lay down a blanket he likes to sit on it and play with a few toys right there

He’ll stay there and play. Just like if you sit a child in front of the TV they stay and stare at the screen.

What’s going on?

The LO is interacting with the buttons; feeling texture, shapes and noticing colour. ( Probably have a bite as well for good measure )
Enjoying the sound of the falling buttons and attempting to imitate his preschool brother’s activity of threading the buttons.

He is directing this learning and moving at his own pace making discoveries. He toddles over to me to show me things but mostly he is just happy and interested in his ‘work’ of play. It’s a chance to truly experiment and be creative without the usual restrictions of…well everyone.

What about the screen?

When he’s watching the screen of the DVD it is a lot more passive. Things happen to him. He has no control over the music, sounds, colours, objects and actions that happen. By the time he catches my attention even if I’m there it is hard to tell which scene he is referring to.

Large periods of time

I’ve found that large periods of downtime and unstructured play with my toddlers have encouraged longer periods of concentration when they can entertain themselves. They are driven to find creative ways of play because they have had the time to motivate themselves.

It isn’t a magic cure. Just another great thing to know about your child.

By not providing a start and and end point of a DVD as their measure of a play period they learn that play can be a fixed time and can also be extended especially if you’re loving what you are doing.

They are keen to discover a new object that’s been rotated into the toy collection or a special item they have seen their brother use but not been able to share at the time.

DVDs and electronic toys are a regular routine in many homes for various reasons. Have you considered having a regular routine of unstructured time? Each day there is a fixed period and open ended items where you child has no fear of being stopped ( OK unless it is unsafe) but allowed to develop a skill they have been forcing on you all week.

………………for us dumping and filling is our life right now. School backpacks dumped and a shoe now left inside, tissue boxes emptied with a toy car replacement, Puzzle draw emptied and used as a stepping stool to a higher shelf. The relocation of stuff back takes time and makes us all a little frazzle. ( Especially on Library book morning)

They will get into everything with their dumping and filling. Can we turn this fraught time and high emotion ( as they go for the vase of flowers with the water or the sugar container or the cereal boxes) into a better time?
Yes. We can with a little routine and freedom.

Share your dumping and filling experiences. What have you used as a play activity for dumping and filling?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Intentionally creating your family haven today


  1. Love this post – what a great reminder as we’ve been turning to the tv way too often lately.

    Dumping and filling we don’t have a lot of these days, with a preschooler and 10 month old. Though I’m preparing for the baby’s dumping and filling days 🙂 Blocks can be fun, I’ll set up our rice table again, and of course the bath is perfect for dumping and filling various containers.

    A question: how about play for the “taking everything apart” phase? I’ve started leaving block structures and train tracks all set up, just so the 4 year old can feel satisfied in taking it apart. But what else can he take apart and experience, other than my coffee, his brandnew birthday presents, our bookshelves… napkin rings, etc.?

    • Dumping and filling in the bath always makes me nervous because of the water.

      The taking everything apart phase is sometimes a short stage although it feels like forever. They soon learn to put it back or maybe it goes away for a little while and then back out when there’s time to really work at getting it back together.

      Construction kits work too.
      melitsa recently posted..31 Days Of Sensory Play {Day Twelve} Chocolate Dipped SpoonsMy Profile


  1. uberVU - social comments says:

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by mamatude: From Play Activities? Building a routine of unstrucutured play

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Terri Mauro and Melitsa Avila, United Teaching. United Teaching said: Reading: Building a routine of unstructured play […]

Love comments, thanks for yours.

Subscribe to the RSS feed and have future articles delivered to your feed reader.