Time to Play, Frequently Asked Questions

Have a question about play or about our joint study with Gallup on parents’ perspectives on play? Find answers here!

 

What is Gallup?

 

Gallup, our partner on the Time to Play study, is a leading public opinion and research company that delivers analytics and advice to help organizations solve their most pressing problems. For more information, visit education.gallup.com.

 

Why did Melissa & Doug commission a study on play?

 

Melissa & Doug is on a mission to Take Back Childhood as a time for kids to experience imagination and wonder. We passionately believe that it’s through play that children discover themselves, their passions, and their purpose. But kids today are missing out on the kind of unstructured play that helps them realize their full potential. We commissioned this study so we might better understand the challenges our children face in their overscheduled, overstimulated, and overparented world. This will enable us to develop strategies to be part of a solution that raises awareness with parents and educators on the importance of incorporating child-led play and downtime into children’s lives. Prior to this study, there was a surprising lack of research on this topic. It is parents, for the most part, who decide how their children spend time outside of school and so it is parents we need to convince how crucial child-led play is to their children’s development and well-being. 

 

Who participated in the Gallup/Melissa & Doug Time to Play study?

 

In 2017, global toy company Melissa & Doug partnered with Gallup to conduct a nationwide study of parents of children between the ages of birth to 10 to explore parents’ perceptions of the role of play in their children’s lives. After extensive focus groups and cognitive interviews with caregivers, Gallup prepared and sent a mail survey to randomly selected households across the U.S. The survey instructed households to have the parent or caregiver who is 18 years of age or older and most familiar with their children’s activities to complete the survey. More than 1,200 respondents returned the survey, and their responses form the basis for the data described in this report.

 

What is unstructured play?

 

Unstructured play is open-ended play with no specific learning objective. It is child-led, not instructor- or adult-led. It is also often referred to as “free play,” as in kids are free to play however they wish. A great example of unstructured play would be a child using his or her imagination to build a city out of blocks versus a child following instructions from a kit to build a city. An impromptu soccer game in the backyard where kids make up the rules and there’s no adult interference is another example. Read more about parents’ perspectives on play here.

 

What are the benefits of unstructured play?

 

Experts agree: the benefits of unstructured, child-led play are enormous. Creative and improvised, unstructured play is critical for child development as kids learn their likes and dislikes and have the freedom to test out their ideas, make mistakes, and try again. The American Academy of Pediatrics has published research that shows play promotes self-confidence, social and cognitive skills, resilience, and more. And it’s these skills that are crucial building blocks for success and personal fulfillment in adulthood. 

 

What is free play?

 

“Free play” is another term for unstructured play or child-led play. See “What is unstructured play” above. Read more about parents’ perspectives on play here.

 

What is child-led play?

 

“Free play” is another term for unstructured play or child-led play. See “What is unstructured play” above. Read more about parents’ perspectives on play here.

“Child-led play,” also sometimes referred to as “child-directed” or “child-initiated” play, is another term for unstructured play or free play. It is play that allows the child to follow his or her own curiosities to direct the action. See “What is unstructured play” above. Read more about parents’ perspectives on play here.

 

What is screen-based play?

 

In our recent study with Gallup on parents’ perspectives on play, we defined screen-based play as activities involving media or electronic devices, including:

  • watching media: watching shows, videos, movies or other programming on TV, DVD or computer (streaming or online, including YouTube and YouTube Kids)
  • playing on electronic devices: computers, tablets, smartphones, video game consoles and handheld gaming devices
  •  doing educational games or activities on electronic devices

Read more about parents’ perspectives on play here.

 

What is screen-free play?

 

In our recent study with Gallup on parents’ perspectives on play, we defined screen-free play as activities NOT involving media or electronic devices, including:

  • outdoor play, not including organized sports or structured activities
  •  child-led indoor play/activities on their own or with siblings/other children

Read more about parents’ perspectives on play here.

 

What is structured time?

 

In our recent study with Gallup on parents’ perspectives on play, we defined structured time as activities typically led by an adult (not including organized sports), including:

  • classes in art, dance, theater, music; scouting; academic enrichment programs; clubs; religious groups; sports lessons (swimming, tennis)

Read more about parents’ perspectives on play here.

 

What does it mean to facilitate play?

 

A facilitator is someone who makes it easier to do something. How can you pave the way for your child to play? Here are some ideas:

  • Ask questions that help extend the play and gets kids thinking (e.g., A child is racing a car along the floor. “That car must be in a hurry. Where is it going?”)
  • Build on their play by following their lead and helping them improvise their storyline on their terms (e.g., A child plays with some alphabet magnets and says “I’m a teacher.” You say, “Yes, Mr. Aiden, and what will we be learning today?”)
  • Provide open-ended materials for play (blocks, modeling clay, art supplies, dress-up accessories)

 

How can parents facilitate unstructured, child-led, free play?

 

“Child-led” doesn’t always mean parents aren’t in the picture. It’s just that they take a supporting role, following their child’s lead, letting the child direct their own explorations and giving feedback and support along the way. This article has some helpful hints on facilitating child-led play. Also, be sure to check out Melissa’s blog post on how parents can encourage pretend play and be imagination coaches for their children.

 

What are some ideas for screen-free play?

 

In our blog, you’ll find tons of great ideas for imaginative and creative play, including some indoor-specific ones, perfect for rainy days or whenever you’re stuck inside!

 

What is Take Back Childhood?

 

It’s our mission to raise awareness about the importance of free play and downtime in children’s lives so they can discover themselves, their passions, and their purpose. Learn more here and read Melissa’s take here.

 

How can I learn more about the power of play?

 

Besides checking out our blog, be sure to sign up for our emails (just scroll to the bottom of this page to enter your email address). We’ll keep you up-to-date on the latest and greatest when it comes to imaginative, child-led play!