Structured vs. Unstructured Learning Activities


When creating learning activities for my children, ages 3 and 5, I try to create both structured learning activities, which have clear directions and rules to complete the assignment, and unstructured learning activities, which allow the children more creative freedom to explore their understanding of a particular topic. The following will go into more details about the differences between the two, with examples of activities that are appropriate for different age groups. As you will see below, learning does not refer solely to academic work, but activities that encourage appropriate social skills, motor development, and language acquisition.

Structured vs. Unstructured Learning Activities

What Are Structured Learning Activities

Structured learning activities have a clear beginning, middle, and end. There is generally a rule or set of rules, and each piece or type of piece plays a clear role in the completion of the play activity. The materials themselves often indicate the instructional methods or skills needed to complete the task.

Here are some examples of structured learning activities for different age groups:

Structured Learning Activities for Infants and Toddlers

Toddler Structured Play Activities

Structured Play Activities For Preschoolers

Structured Play Activities for Preschoolers

Strucutured Learning Activities for Elementary-Age Children

  • worksheets
  • books
  • jigsaw puzzles
  • more advanced board games

Structured Play for Elementary Age Children

What Are Unstructured Learning Activities?

Unstructured learning activities are open-ended. They are not rule-governed; they rely on the use of a child's imagination to engage with various learning materials. Children often creatively combine lots of pieces from different play sets and educational materials to create something new.

Here are some examples for each age group:

Infants & Toddlers Unstructured Learning Activities

Toddler unstructured play ideas

Unstructured Play Activities for Preschoolers

  • dress-up (super heroes, princesses, pirates)
  • toy trains, cars, and trucks
  • puppets and other story-telling materials
  • role-playing kits (doctor, construction worker, chef)

Unstructured play ideas for Preschoolers

Unstructured Play Ideas for Elementary-Age Children

Unstructured Activities for Elementary Learning

Varying learning activities to include structured activities, which teach children to follow directions to complete a task, and unstructured activities, which allow children to explore their unique ideas, will help them to acquire a multitude of skills.
How do you vary your children's educational opportunities?
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Dr. Carrie Wells is a college instructor, blogger, and work-at-home mother to two young children, Lydia (age 5) and Bryce (age 3). Carrie graduated from the University of Florida in 2001 with a Bachelor’s degree in elementary education and in 2002 with a Master’s degree in special education. After teaching children ages 3 – 21 with varying abilities for several years, she completed her Doctorate in special education in 2008 from Nova Southeastern University. In March 2010, Carrie began writing Huppie Mama, a lifestyle blog focusing on family, food, fun, fashion, and fitness.

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