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  • Dr. Liz Homan


The way that kids are interacting with other kids has changed over the last couple of years for many families. This has led to changes in children’s social development and I want to take some time today to talk about PLAY!

All ages of kids need to PLAY! And that includes us too, moms! So let’s talk about play and what we can do to foster playtime and why play is so important!

Play is defined in many different ways, but I resonate best with “to move aimlessly about; to toy or fiddle around with something”.

There are also so many different ways in which we can play and as our kids develop, they go through different stages of play. According to Parten, there are 6 stages of play:

  1. Unoccupied Play- moving the body with no purpose other than it feels good and interesting. As babies and kids move their bodies, they are developing nerve function and synapses in the brain.

  2. Independent or solitary play- when a child plays along with little to no reference to what other kids or adults are doing. This allows them to get comfortable with themselves and their surroundings.

  3. Onlooker Play- observing other children or adults play but not actually playing themselves. As a child observes others, she is learning how they are doing certain things and then may try to do the same after some time.

  4. Parallel Play- when kids play beside each other but not with each other

  5. Associative Play- plays with other children but the kids do not organize their play toward a common goal. Basically they are just having fun with no real objective.

  6. Cooperative Play-starting to see teamwork. This stage is when children learn proper interactions, socialization and communication. All while playing. 😊

I bring these stages to your attention not so that you can “force” your child (if that is even possible), to do a certain type of play, but to make you aware that when your child is doing something, there is most likely a reason for it.

I remember when Anna was younger and we would go to the park and if there were other kids there, she would just stand there and watch them. At first it drove me nuts as I wanted her to join in with them, but then I realized that she was doing Onlooker Play and that she was learning.

So, what can we do to help our children play and develop these skills? Here is a list of a few ideas that I came up with:

  • Let the child choose the activity

  • Create a space that is safe and inviting for them

  • Do not over schedule the day to allow time for them to just be and play

  • Get on the floor with them and play with them at their level

  • Go outside

  • Do not have an overabundance of toys but make sure to still have enough for them to have creative expression

  • Encourage your child to read/look at books on their own

  • Try to stop worrying about the end results and focus more on the process

We know what play is, we know that there are different stages of play and we have some ideas on what to do to help our children play, but WHY is play important? Play allows for our brains to expand and develop. It helps with the development of communication patterns, problem solving skills and emotional maturity. It is through play that we figure out right from wrong, good from bad. Play allows for us to be spontaneous, to make choices and to have space to use our bodies how we would like.

There are so many reasons why play is important that I could never list them all, but I feel that this quote sums up one very important fact. “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

And for us moms, we need to take some time and play as well! What does that look like for you? Some of my favorite activities (because it feels weird to call it play) that I do are spending time out in my vegetable garden during the summer months and then in the winter I try to make time to either bake or to do some adult coloring, I also really enjoy learning, so anytime I can devote to learning something new is very enjoyable to me. I would love to learn more from you on what you do to play so that I can possibly look into adding those to my day!

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