5 Ways Unstructured Play Boosts Learning (Plus Tips-By-Age Guide!)

Ways Unstructured Play Boosts Learning - Kindermusik

This is a brand new day.

Ev’rything is just fine.

Time to go outside and play

Ev’rything is just fine.

(from Kindermusik’s rhythmic chant, “Ev’rything Is Just Fine”) Listen below!

“Ev’rything Is Just Fine” is a Kindermusik track that gets stuck in your head. And if you have or care for young children, that’s a good thing!. “Time to go outside and play…” Exactly. We must never forget that young children NEED TO PLAY. For everything to be “just fine” for them, a key ingredient is regular, unstructured play. 

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6 Ways to Prevent Summer Slide

6 Ways to Prevent Summer Slide

Usually, family summer themes include vacation, festivals, summer camps, and more. This year is very different, with overtones of catch-up and preventing severe boredom in the midst of lingering closures. However, one thing hasn’t changed…the looming threat of “summer slide” which extends from babies to early elementary students. So, how do families combat learning loss while recovering from a pandemic?

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The Box vs. The Toy that Came In It: Why the Box Wins


How often does this scene play out in your home? You get that toy your little one has been eyeing for the past two months – you know the one. Every time the commercial popped up on the TV everything stopped. “Mommy! Daddy! That’s it!! That’s it!!”

It seemed like a great choice. Well reviewed. Educational. It even had some research proving it did x and y, and it would help your child grow up to be Grace Hopper (if you don’t know who Grace Hopper is, check her out). 

You buy it, wrap it, and gift it. Those little hands tear apart your carefully swathed package. She’s thrilled! Shrieks of “thank you!” and “you’re the best Mom and Dad ever!” fill the room.

Then it happens.

After tens of minutes, the toy is in the corner, your child has drawn buttons on the box in which it came, and is pretending the box is a space ship. 

Let’s explore the “why” behind this oft repeated occurrence. 

Children are Wired to Learn and Explore

First – this is normal behavior – particularly for those younger kids. You’ve heard it before – they are sponges, taking it all in. When the opportunity arises to apply some of that newly acquired knowledge, particularly in imaginary play, they will normally grab that brass ring. Dr. Tim Jordan, a leading expert on parenting girls, puts it this way:

Kids of all ages LOVE big boxes; you know, the kind that comes from that new refrigerator or appliance.  It allows their creativity to go wild. They can build whatever their hearts desire, using their own imaginations. They will make up games and scenarios that they play out; again, it’s about having the freedom and autonomy to pursue their own interests. It’s the same reason kids love a box of grandmas old clothes to play dress-up games.

– Dr. Tim Jordan

With infants exploring the world, it’s often about texture, sound, and sight. Crunching that wrapping paper, playing with a shiny bow, and banging on an empty box is just as rewarding as squeezing the new stuffed animal. In reality, the box, wrapping paper, and bow engage her developing senses in ways the stuffed animal just can’t. The infatuation with the packaging is a result of normal childhood development.

Check out these two cuties having a ball with their carrier boxes – basically ignoring the little stuffed animal.

Build a Scaffold for Play

With older kids, playing with the box can be an opportunity for scaffolded play time. Consider:

  • The box is perhaps an unplanned (though we know it will probably happen) material for play.
    • It’s open-ended and flexible.
    • It can be anything the child imagines.
  • Give them time to explore, to experiment with the box.
  • Encourage that experimentation and exploration
  • Ensure a safe space for the activity.
  • When play is over, help the child tidy up.

Don’t fight it. The box will always retain its allure. I have a hard time not wanting to make the refrigerator box in the basement into a time machine, and I’m 43. Remember this: the box may have contained a really awesome toy, but your child’s brain contains limitless imagination – and that box is a blank canvas for its application.

You can join in, too. It’s okay. If you need me, I’ll be in my time machine.

Splish, splish, SPLASH!

The following post was shared from Kindermusik educator Joy Granade.

Some days bathtime feels like a chore, just one more part of the day you have to slog through to get the kids into bed, so you can crash.  However, over the years it’s been amazing to watch the way my hubby has turned bathtime into a special ritual with the boys.

When my oldest was first born, my hubby proudly declared that he wanted the responsibility for bathtime.  At first I wasn’t quite so sure as his early attempts were filled with some crazy misadventures.  But before long I saw what a treasure bathtime was quickly becoming for my two (and now three) guys.

Proud Kindermusik mama that I am, I have seen in action how important rituals and routines are for helping babies, toddlers, preschoolers (and even grownups) find order and peace in their days.  Not only have I seen them ease tantrums and tears, but I’ve also watched how they help us as a family calm and connect to one another.  So, here are a few lessons I’ve learned from watching my sweet hubby at bathtime with the boys:

Give yourself time. When you don’t feel rushed, you both can be really present in the moment, which helps you make bathtime a bonding experience but also helps your little one feel relaxed and ready for bed.

Bathtime can be playtime. And of course for little people, playtime is always learning time.  Whether you just grab a small colander, funnel, and measuring cups from the kitchen or you buy bathtoys, water play is a blast and a great way to learn.  Watch how things sink or float.  Talk about colors.  Count.  Play with textures – washcloths or even sponges cut into shapes or animals.  Identify letters (foam ones are fun to stick on the wall).

We even used bathtime to teach a lot of sign language (DUCK, WATER, BATH, IN, OUT, MORE).  Our favorite toys:  ducks, stacking cups with holes that water can drip through, and now dinosaurs we can bathe.  I’ve also heard of families bringing baby dolls or cars to share in the bath as well.

Consider using your hands.  Touch is one of the most important ways we connect.  A long time ago my hubby declared that he didn’t want to use baby washcloths much, though they are sometimes necessary.  He knew that the special act of washing our boys with his bare hands communicated love and affection in a way that a washcloth couldn’t.

Add a little massage. With our littlest babies in the Village classes, we often share a time of baby massage.  Bathtime is the perfect time to extend this activity.  Whether you just give a little extra squeeze as you scrub your little one down, or you pull out some lotion for a sweet massage after you’ve toweled off, this kind of loving, intentional touch aids in digestion, relieves colic, promotes health, and might even help your child sleep.

Even after we quit giving massages at bathtime, I continued to give backrubs and leg and arm massage as we snuggled before bed when I knew our kids were having a hard time settling down for bedtime.

And of course…make music! Because transitions have always needed a little extra creativity in our household, we made up a bathtime song years ago.  (It sounds like the old Batman TV show theme but uses the word Bathtime instead of Batman.  Only my hubby.)  But it grew from there.  Before long we had songs we sang to calm crying babies as we toweled them off, chants for counting “piggies” in the bath (“This little piggy…”), and even songs about scrubbing in the tub.  Sometimes we just sang our latest favorite Kindermusik songs or even made up new silly songs.  It never matters what we sing, it always makes bathtime easier – especially when it’s been a long day.

Time to get out of the tub! And last but not least, all good things must come to an end, and with bathtime, sometimes the fun is so great that getting out is hard.  That’s why it’s a good idea to come up with a few rituals for getting out.

Over the years ours have evolved.  For our babies, we sang lullabies to help ease the transition.  Then as the boys grew, they counted down 5 minutes, 3 minutes, 1 minute till time to get out of the bath.  Soon they were making choices about how to get out of the tub – stomp like a dinosaur out of the bath or jump like a monkey.

But the best was what happened on the other side of the tub wall.  Whether they hid under the towel, played peekaboo, or pretended to be butterflies wrapped in a towel cocoon, there was always a big snuggle at the end of bath – my favorite part!

Special thanks to Kindermusik educator Joy Granade for sharing this post from her blog, Kindermusik with Joy. Information about Joy’s Kindermusik program in Kansas City, MO, can be found at her blog.