What is play? Play is when you engage in an activity for enjoyment and recreation instead of a serious or practical purpose.
What is Structured Play? Structured Play is when play follows certain rules like for example when playing sports, putting together a puzzle or playing board games.
What is Unstructured Play? Unstructured Play is building blocks, drawing, dramatic play or make believe.
In the definition for "what is play" the word that jumped out to me was "enjoyment." I believe that play should be enjoyed by the person(s) playing. I believe that when children play with children that the play is being enjoyed by both. Of course the normal squabbles might occur but for the most part play is mutually being enjoyed. I know from personal experience that I have played with my children many times because I felt I needed to and not necessarily because I wanted to. Please don't misunderstand I LOVE playing with my children and will continue too. However, I have learned through the years to only play when the play is being enjoyed by both sides equaling good quality playtime, whether structured or unstructured.
Personally, I try to steer clear of playing dramatic play or make believe. I opt to play board games, basketball or arts and crafts, simply because I find that these types of activities are most enjoyed by both me and my children. In my opinion, their is not a 'one size fits all' kind of play. Families and children are different and finding out which type of play works best for your family is the key.
Although I feel parents/adults playing with children is important and creates a bond I also feel it's just as important that a child be left to play by themselves. Playing alone builds self confidence, independence and imagination. It helps the child realize they can play alone or in groups and be fine either way. Most importantly, play should always be fun and enjoyed by all who are engaging in it.
Here's a saying I like: "Play to Learn and Learn to Play." Meaning; when your child is learning whether with numbers or letters or whatever your child is working on that the learning time can be and should be fun time/playtime. I home schooled my daughter for preschool and I found that she did not work well sitting down with a worksheet or workbook to learn. Instead, she learned better when I turned learning into a game. For example, when we were learning number identification I took learning outdoors to our driveway. Using some chalk I wrote a bunch of random numbers and had my daughter pedal her bike to the number that I called out. She loved it, was learning and using gross motor skills at the same time! She was playing AND learning at the same time!
The above is just one example of how a child can "Play to Learn."
And.... "Learn to Play" is simply that - just take the time to figure out what kind of play you and your child enjoy most and "Learn to Play", that way!
However or whatever you play ALWAYS have fun!
A quote from one of my favorite educators and tv personalities, Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers)
Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.