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The Best Type of Play is With You!

Child playing with dinosaurs and talking to himself - make believe

It's easy to get tricked into thinking that your child needs the latest tablet or coolest toys to enjoy playing, but the secret that toy companies won't tell you is that YOU are the most fun to play with. Just your presence, eye contact, enthusiasm, and attention will make almost any activity fun for your child. Even chores like sweeping, setting the table, or picking up sticks in the yard are fun for your child when you are joining in! 

2 Types of Play

But, we get it, you can't always be there to play directly with your child, and that's okay because your child will learn from multiple versions of play. One type of play is free play. Free play is fun, voluntary, and imaginative play that your child engages in without an adult. Guided play is free play, plus an adult who can encourage learning along the way. 

Free Play

Have you ever watched your child play with different toys and talk about what each toy is up to? Your child probably tells wildly impossible stories and decides one block is a house, while another block is a car. In the real world, swimming dinosaurs who drive cars don't exist, but this imaginative play is how your child practices analyzing and sifting through information to make sense of it. They are practicing creativity and exploring how to live out what they are learning in the "real world". 

As an adult, you may be a little rusty on how to play. And, it can be hard to find the line between being involved in play, and being over involved in play. This is one of the many skills we learn in parenting class! Notice how you react when your child…

  • Colors outside the lines
  • Makes a mess with arts & crafts
  • Mixes all the playdough colors into a big brown ball
  • Squirts an entire container of glue out (Tip: try letting them do this, just give them a much smaller bottle)

If the mess bothers you, or even makes you angry, notice that and try reminding yourself that this type of hand on play is one of the best learning tools we can offer kids. They need to understand the what happens when you mix all the paints together or what glue feels like on their hands. They may try this many times, and that is okay!

Guided Play

First, it's important to know that it's normal to feel a little uncomfortable when you are learning to play with your child. After all, when in your life have you ever been asked to pretend to be a dragon that breathes sprinkles out their nose? Don't worry, this feeling will wear off as you get more practice. 

Tips for Guided Play

☀️ Pick out books that interest your child (trains, animals, trucks, etc.) and take turns acting out the story.

☀️ Use items you already have at home like cardboard boxes and say, "I can’t wait to see what you turn this into!" or "What other supplies do you think you might need?" Let your child lead with their imagination and ask questions to support their ideas.

Pay attention the adventures characters in your child's favorite TV show or books go on, and adjust them to your space. Who says a couch can't be a pirate ship? 

For more family activities & tips:

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