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Making the Most of Children’s Playtime – Tips

Making the Most of Children’s Playtime – Tips to help parents make playtime a formative experience for children using solitary play, parallel play, associative play, and more types of play. This article was written for Oakland County Moms by Dr Anne Donato of Oakland University – doctoral program/Early Childhood Education in 2010.


When our children are small, they rely on us for everything, from food and shelter to healthcare and clothing needs.  All of the basics.  And one of the most essential of these basics is the choice we make in creating  play experiences for our children. We control this part of their lives, too. We decide the toys they will have, where they will play, when they  will play, who they will play with, how long they get to play, whether we will let them play alone or include us, and the list goes on. And while these daily choices seem trivial at times, they are, in fact, pivotal to a child’s development.

Research strongly shows that positive, constructive play experiences are the building blocks to strong cognitive growth and development. Children not only crave play; they need it, just like a good breakfast and exercise, love and affection. Play gets your child moving, thinking, laughing, adjusting – all responses that require the body to react with a physical response. Play “wakes” your child’s senses – this is one reason why children enjoy play; it feels good from the outside in. And while there are many forms of play – solitary play (by themselves), parallel play (by themselves, but next to another child playing in the same manner), interactive/social play (actively playing with other children in the same experience) being some of the main types – all require children to respond to their outside world, to venture out, to try something new, and then recreate it if they like it. Or avoid it if they don’t. These are the beginnings of key social decisions, and a lifetime of working with other people as well as themselves.

Making the Most of Children’s Playtime – Tips for Parents

  • Keep it simple. Some of the best play is done with a spoon and a lid, or between two children with a ball. Games and toys, outings and fields trips are terrific, but always remember that it should be about what brings your child joy. Look for the smiles and chatting, engagement and interaction. Children have been inventing games for centuries, some with as little as a stick.
  • Be flexible. Just because your child loved doing something one day, doesn’t mean that they will want to do it again the next. That’s okay. We don’t like doing the same things all the time, either. Adjust. Offer something else to do or play with. Or, better yet, see what they would like to do today. Watch their lead, keep it safe, and if you can adjust it or take it to the next level by adding a few things , great. Remember, it should be about activity and joy.
  • Drive the bus. Remember that you provide the opportunities, the experiences, the exposure to play. Think about some experiences that you would like your child to have, and then see if you can make them happen. This could be as simple as taking a walk around the block together, trying a new park, or calling someone that you think would be good to get together with. Your child can venture out when you do.
  • Allow for quiet. Your child needs rest. We all do. Let them stare out the window. Open all the drawers by themselves.  Read for hours in their rooms. Fall asleep wherever. They need a “Saturday”, too. No plans. No set agenda. No planned experiences. This is when they learn about their own desires, and what the rhythms of their minds and bodies are. They are deeply enjoying their time. And isn’t that what play is all about?
  • Play yourself. Children learn joy when they see joy, when they feel joy, and are offered joy. And the best way to offer our children joy , and openness to play is to be playful and open yourself.

Anne Donato/Oakland University – doctoral program/Early Childhood Education

See related posts below for more children’s playtime tips.

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