The Importance of Play for Children

How To Play With Your Child

Batman LegoThis is something that really sounds and should be so easy, but the reality can be quite different, for me personally I struggle in two ways when I play with my child.

My experience

Firstly, I become aware of myself when trying to play; I get very self-conscious and start to feel really silly. It is stupid really, because my son is not likely to judge me and he absolutely loves playing with me and it is an issue I try to put aside when I do play with him.

Secondly, to put it mildly my son is bossy, he knows exactly how the game is going to be played, exactly who is playing with what and how, and exactly what is going to happen. If anything and I mean anything, does not go exactly how he sees it in his mind then all hell breaks loose. This is not so bad when I play with him, because I am quite happy for him to take the lead and if I stray from his vision, he is very quick to tell me where I went wrong, but it can cause a few problems when he is with other children!

Why is it important to play with your child?

As we have already discovered, play is really important for children, but does it really matter how or whom they play with? Surely playing alone or with other children is good enough.

Playing with other children and playing alone are both important, but so is playing with adults, especially those closest to them.  By playing with adults children learn to

  • develop skills
  • add structure and maturity to their play
  • form/ strengthen bonds
  • learn to play differently with different people

So, how do I play with my child?

Playing with a child can be quite tricky and how you approach it, really depends on
a) your child
b) what you will be doing

Personally, for me I find free play a lot easier to play with my son, so he leads quite a lot of our play sessions. I have tried doing structured activities with him with mixed results and I find even if he is willing to participate he gets bored and frustrated quite easily, which then leads to me getting frustrated and then everyone is miserable. So, for structured activities I leave that in the capable hands of paid childcare!

My son has many favourite games, which he likes to play with me, and I have learnt a lot about him and his understanding of the world through playing with him. He will often try to recreate things that he has seen, heard, or experienced through play.

However, some children are not so keen to lead play, my niece is like this. She likes to be lead and to have activities suggested to her. She is a lot better at structured activities than my son is.

Neither way is necessarily wrong, it is just both children have different personalities and different likes.

Let them lead but do not let them dictate

It is important however, you play with your child that you give them the opportunity to lead and to experiment. The worst thing you can do when playing with your child is to try to ‘take over’, play is all about learning, experimenting, and developing. I am not suggesting for any minute that you sit their passively, but give your child the opportunity to make choices. If your child is reluctant to take the lead then make it easier for them, instead of deciding that your child plays with the dog, ask your child if they would prefer the dog or the cat.

Also, be wary of your child becoming to bossy or domineering, as I mentioned before my son can be very bossy and insistent of the game going exactly how he wants it. This is something which myself, and his caregivers when he goes to childcare, have been working on with him. It is just as important for children to learn how to follow as it is for them to learn how to lead.  There does come a point with my son when he become too domineering, in that instance I either have to stop play and/ or remove him completely from the situation.

So, what can I play with my child?

The possibilities really are endless, you can play indoors or outdoors, you can play something physical or something relaxing, you can play with objects or you can use your body, you can play something noisy or quite. There is no right or wrong way and what you play with largely depend on your child.

Here are some ideas


Most kids loved to be chased and ‘caught’ and some will even want to be the monster, lion, or whatever and chase and catch you




MessySand/ water/ messy play 

I will be honest and say apart from bath time I have steered well clear of things like this but when my son is given the opportunity at groups or childcare he absolutely loves this kind of play



PuzzleBoard game or puzzles

These types of games are perfect for a nice quiet activity that requires communication, teamwork, and concentration




PrincessImaginative play

There really is no limit to where a child’s imagination will take them, are they a pirate, a fairy, a doctor, a fire-fighter, a dancer, or a magician, or a combination of everything and anything



Small world play

Farm set, train set, pepper pig set there are no end to play sets, I think most parents have some form of box or container which contains millions of plastic play pieces which have somehow become separated from their set and you have no idea which set it is (or if you even have that set anymore!)

Play should be fun and stress free

Despite everything I have written about please do not feel pressured or duty bound into playing with your child. Play should be fun for all parties and just because they do not play with you it is in no way the end of the world.

Your child will be perfectly fine.





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