Structure vs. Open-Ended Activities

Structure vs. Open-Ended Activities

When observing a class at Romp n’ Roll, one would be hard-pressed to describe the activities as “highly structured.”  In fact, the classes often involve a fair amount of “open-ended play.”  And one might wonder if this is really helping the children to make the most of their potential.

If you are one of those who is wondering, I urge you to remember your high school science lesson regarding exoskeletons and endoskeletons.  Some creatures, such as ants, have an exoskeleton.  That means an external shell where the bone encases the muscle.  This gives the creature extraordinary strength.  An ant can lift 20 times its own weight.  However, such rigidity limits the creature’s growth.  And when you consider that despite the 20 times its own weight thing, the ant will never be able to lift anything larger than a bread crumb, the end result actually is not very impressive.

On the other hand, some creatures, such as humans, have an endoskeleton.  That means the bone is on the inside and the muscle is on the outside.  While this does not produce prodigious proportionate strength, it does not place severe restrictions on flexibility and growth.  Consequently, although a human may only be able to lift half its own weight, it can lift a whole lot more than an ant.

So if you are observing an early education program that emphasizes structure over open-ended play, you may very well see the little ones doing things that seem “big” relative to their current age level.  But it is critical to realize that such structure ultimately creates a developmental exoskeleton that will limit what they will be capable of doing in the future.  Meanwhile, a program like Romp n’ Roll that permits a good dose of less structured activity ultimately creates a developmental endoskeleton that will enable the children to truly make the most of their potential and do far more amazing things in the years ahead.


Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. Mike”) is a member of the management team at Romp n’ Roll. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in human development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also held a position as a researcher with the Harvard Preschool Project. He may be contacted via e-mail at drmike@romproll.com.

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