What is active play?
Active play can take place indoors or outdoors and constitutes any form of physical activity that children participate in, which includes bursts of high energy. Active play can be structured or unstructured, and as children grow and develop new skills, the opportunities to engage in active play increase.
As the name suggests, structured active play is directed by the teacher (or parent at home) and usually includes rules. Some examples of structured active play include musical chairs, sports, and swimming lessons. Children must listen to their teacher and follow instructions to play in an organised way.
Unstructured active play on the other hand requires only supervision from the teacher, rather than direction. Children run, jump, hop, skip, and climb as they wish. Examples of unstructured active play include, playing on school ground equipment, climbing trees, imaginative play and simply running around!
In its National Physical Activity Guidelines, the Department of Health and Ageing recommends that children from three to five years of age should be active for a total of at least three hours per day, so including physical play during school and at home is critical.
What are the benefits of active play?
Here just some of the reasons why active play should be encouraged in and out of the classroom environment.
Being active throughout the day ensures children build strong muscles (including the heart) and healthy bones improving their strength and endurance. Physical activity also allows children to develop their movement (eg running, jumping, skipping) and coordination (eg throwing and catching a ball, balancing on a beam, hitting a ball with a bat). All of these activities promote flexibility, coordination and precision in movement, helping children to develop gross motor skills.
As children learn and master physical activities they develop confidence which improves self-esteem. The activities need not be difficult – a child may feel a great sense of achievement from finally climbing to the top of a piece of playground equipment, or riding a bike unassisted for the first time.
Improves social interaction
Structured active play in particular is useful for building social interaction skills. Children learn the responsibilities of being a team member – they learn how to communicate with team mates to achieve a common goal. In unstructured active play, children can use their imagination to make up games and must learn to negotiate with each other about what the rules will be. By being a member of a team, whether formal or informal, children get a sense of belonging and friendship bonds are formed.
Engages the mind
Active play encourages children to focus on the activity at hand and give it their full attention. The ability to sustain attention on a task is an important skill used for academic learning inside the classroom. Active play can assist children with task persistence, autonomy and may improve the motivation to learn.
Builds emotional intelligence
Risk-taking as part of active play is a powerful way of learning. When children take risks, they face the possibility of failure. While success increases self-esteem, failure can build resilience by allowing children to find a different way to do things so that they don’t fail again. Opportunities for learning can be experienced through simple activities like climbing a tree or skipping rope.
Of course active play in the classroom involves activities that present risk in a safe and calculated way to prevent harm or injury. It is important in both the classroom and at home, that risk is not removed all together as this creates a challenge-free environment where children’s opportunities to make their own decisions are greatly reduced. Where there is no risk, children are not challenged to act independently and gain confidence.
Examples of active play
Indoor active play:
Throwing and catching a soft ball
Hide and seek
Follow the leader
Outdoor active play:
Kicking a ball
Hitting a ball (cricket, tennis, tee ball)
Climbing playground equipment
Blowing and catching bubbles
Beach play (building castles, frisbee, running from waves)
For over a century, Trinity Grammar School has guided boys to grow in mind, body and spirit and we inspire boys to realise their potential, passions and purpose in life. Our students experience a variety of active play opportunities in the classroom, and through co-curricular activities and our outdoor education programme. To learn more about the Trinity difference download our Trinity in Action videos.