The first Wednesday in August (5th August 2020), is national Playday and we promoted it last year with suggestions of how to join in with big events organised across the country to encourage children to play. This year is different, due to the restrictions placed on gatherings and large social events because of coronavirus. So, in line with the official Playday site, we are championing something different this year, and that is a child’s right to play at home, giving you some research findings and tips we hope you will share with your parents/carers to help everyone get the greatest benefit that comes from everyday playing.

Play is crucial in promoting healthy child development1and the importance of parents playing with children (especially
fathers) was highlighted recently in research based on data from 78 studies2, which reported that children whose fathers spent time playing with them at a very early age, found it easier to control their behaviours and emotions, which can have a beneficial effect on children as they get older. Fathers tend to engage in more physical play like chasing, tickling and piggybacks, which researchers believe may help children learn to control their feelings.

What advice can you give to parents/carers to help?

Some parents play instinctively with children, but not all. A report on parent-child interactions at the Minnesota Children’s Museum3, suggested that parents may need some guidance to successfully facilitate play, and that they could basically take on one of 4 roles whilst playing with their children, including:

  • Onlooker - adults observe children playing but generally do not disrupt the play
  • Stage manager - adults help set the stage for their children’s activities but do not get directly involved
  • Co-player - a co-player typically takes on a small, supporting role or suggests different directions the play could take whilst the child takes the lead
  • Play leader - a play leader actively guides the play from within, suggesting or allocating roles or scenarios. Nursery staff and teachers often take on this role when working with groups that may not have initially chosen to play together

The roles that an adult takes on may be decided by several factors including the time they have available, their confidence in taking on the role, as well as the general confidence and needs of the child/children playing.

The same report also identified different types of play that children/adults can engage in, such as

  • Social play – play resulting from social interaction with others
  • Object play – the active, playful manipulation of objects
  • Pretend play – creating alternate realities to the real world
  • Physical play – physical activity in a playful context
  • Media play – play involving technology

In his book, “Children, Play and Development”4, Dr Fergus Hughes suggests a non-exhaustive list of ways that adults can enhance their child’s play in the early years, giving 4 important skills:

  1. Being sensitive to children’s cues
  2. Maintaining a playful and available attitude
  3. Trying to keep children at optimal engagement
  4. Being willing to participate in social games


For more information on what these mean for parents/carers in a practical sense, see the article by Juliet Rayment on the benefits of play for children under 2. These ideas have been backed up with other data5 into the beneficial roles of sensitive and responsive parenting which suggest parents should tune into their child’s emotions, concerns and needs (sensitive) and then provide them with appropriate levels of support/reassurance (responsive), which apply equally well to playing as they do to dealing with a child’s behaviour.

Ideally, adults need to be sensitive AND responsive when playing with their children, whilst allowing the child/children to lead the play in the most part. Here are some ideas for ways that parents/carers can have fun with their children at home,
leading to benefits for the whole family.

Ideas for playing at home

It is easy nowadays to put a screen in front of children and expect them to entertain themselves, and there are times when we have all done this. However, in the spirit of the best play possible, why not suggest that parents think about?

  • Arts and crafts activities
  • Mark-making, be that with pencils or crayons, or in different kinds of media such as mud, sand or pebbles
  • Jigsaws and puzzles which they work out together
  • Treasure hunts
  • Physical play and tickling
  • Board games that can be done as a family
  • Traditional card games such as Snap and Go Fish, or more modern ones such as Dobble
  • Dressing up and acting out stories from books or plays
  • Play computer games as a family, rather than just letting children play alone

Outdoors play

  • Playing outdoors has many advantages and there are countless ways to help
    children play outdoors in a garden or park.
  • Water is great for children to play in, but you must NEVER leave young children alone whilst water is about. That said, there is much fun to be had jumping in and out of sprinklers, playing safely in a paddling pool or just splashing about with water with some containers and a washing up bowl
  • Set up a fun obstacle course
  • Have a fun kickabout (great training for sports such as football and rugby), or just practice hand/eye coordination by throwing/catching or bat and ball games. Help children by using larger bats which are light and easy to hold, and softer balls
  • Take a visit to your local playground – they are not just ‘swings and roundabouts’ nowadays, but children can enjoy dinosaur- or pirate-themed playgrounds, to name a few, and there’s all manner of climbing, balancing and acrobatic equipment for them to enjoy
  • Take the children into the woods and play Robin Hood, or build a den
  • Do some wild art or follow a nature trail
  • Roll down a grassy slope together having races
  • Go to the beach and play in the sand – building sandcastles is for any age!
  • Visit the National Trust and look at their “50 things to do before you’re 11¾ “ booklet – it’s full of adventurous play ideas for outdoor play – you may just need to adapt some of the ideas for younger children

Whatever you do, playing should be fun, so make it so!

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