parental play

Play with parents sets the stage for children’s ability to successfully play with peers.
(Haight & Miller, 1992)

As parents, we are all familiar with playing with our children. It can be an area however, that isn’t always easy and not always easy to do well.

Research suggests that being a good play partner to our children brings with it significant benefits. We know that children love to spend time with us. When we play with them, not only does it make them feel loved and special, it also allows them to engage in more sustained and sophisticated play: in a way that they wouldn’t be able to do on their own or with friends, (Bernstein et al, 1997).

Studies have also shown that the quality of the adult interaction in play is maybe more important than the quantity. When the adult takes part in a sensitive manner and follows the child’s lead, the play becomes more sophisticated, creative and sustained, (Feise, 1990/White, 2013). Moreover, the quality of the adult’s participation will result in more cognitive activity, (Howes& Smith, 1995). However, if the adult is too domineering and/or not sensitive to the child’s needs at the time, the child will lose interest and stop playing.

Becoming an effective play partner to our children

So, how do we become effective play partners to our children? Johnson et al (2005/cited in R. White, 2013), recommend several techniques that parents/carers can adopt. These include:

– Being sensitive to the child’s needs at the time and flexible in the way you intervene.
– Following the child’s lead.
– Taking note of what your child enjoys and likes doing, and respond accordingly.
– Asking leading questions and responding to their questions in a way that encourages critical thinking.
– Providing enough time for play. Research suggests that preschoolers need at least half an hour to plan their play and carry it out.

Other tips include:

parental play1. Allowing your child to develop the theme and immerse yourself in their play world, (even if it makes you feel silly!).
2. Using soft toys or puppets to act out real life scenarios that can teach problem-solving or social skills. For example, you could have a toy or puppet to show the incorrect way to handle a situation. With input from your child, think of a better way for the toy to behave. Afterwards, you can let the child do it.
3. Making the most of playing outdoors to develop motor coordination and hand-to-eye coordination. Playing outdoors will also provide opportunities to incorporate nature and encourage questions.
4. Playing board games where you can help your child with taking turns as well as helping them with the negative emotions they may feel when they lose.
5. Creating a craft project together, such as constructing a jigsaw or building a bridge.
6. Listening to music, dancing and singing together. Creating your own band and putting shows on for each other, complete with instruments.
7. Playing the games that are loved by children universally, such as hide and seek.
8. Choosing a night to be the family game night. As well as benefiting the child in ways described above, it will also encourage a cooperative and supportive environment.

Playing effectively with your children reaps a number of benefits. There are cognitive benefits through enabling your child to reach more sophisticated types of pretend play, as well as developing problem-solving skills, social skills, creativity, numeracy and language. And just as importantly, it lets your children know that they are loved, that they are important and that you appreciate them.

parental play

If you have any experiences/comments that you would like to share based on this post, then I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.


Related: Cultivating a Love of learning/The power of play for Preschoolers