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Want to incorporate more play into your family’s routine? Wondering if play really helps kids develop? 

Play is essential for children’s development. Numerous studies have demonstrated that play reduces children’s stress and provides socioemotional benefits that last a lifetime. Research has also shown that when children play they are practicing critical thinking, problem solving, negotiation, and communication skills. Building these important skills prepares children for school. The following FAQs will help you answer your questions and get you playing more!

My days are so busy. How do I incorporate play on top of what I already have to do?
Play doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective! You can build small moments of play into your daily routine – in fact, chances are, you probably do. Sing sings while giving your child a bath or brushing their teeth, play a guessing game or a rhyming game in the car. Or pretend to be frogs, dragons, or monsters as you hop, fly, or lurch home from school. If you are out of ideas, ask your child to take the lead!

Grandmother playing with her grandson in bathtub.

Grandmother playing with her grandson in bathtub.

Money is already so tight. What if I can’t afford expensive toys?
Play doesn’t have to cost a thing! In pretend play, children imagine that the world around them is totally different. A piece of cardboard becomes the steering wheel of a car, and a pillow might become a spaceship. If you prefer more structure, games like Simon Says and Mother May I only your body. And remember that singing, rhyming, and moving in silly, creative ways are all types of play which you can do wherever you are with whatever you have.

My child needs discipline. If I play with them, won’t they stop taking me seriously?
Studies show that playing actually improves relationships between caregivers and children. Playing with your child will build mutual trust that can reduce your need to constantly police their actions. For more on how playing with your child can lead to their positive growth and development – including their ability to self-regulate and self-discipline. Check out the CDC’s positive parenting tips for more ideas.

I’m trying to get my child ready for school. Shouldn’t I focus on teaching them concrete skills like reading, writing, or counting?

Father playing with blocks with his child.

Father playing with blocks with his child.

Play is a great way for children to learn these skills on their own! Scribbling with sidewalk chalk, playing with dirt, and manipulating Play-Doh all prepare children for writing. Numerous studies have demonstrated that play leads to language acquisition essential for children’s development in literacy. Research has also shown how playing with blocks improves a variety of mathematics skills children learn in the early grades.

Keep in mind that play and basic skills are not mutually exclusive. You can teach children counting by stacking blocks, teach them the alphabet through songs, and teach them writing through drawing and storytelling. For more ideas on using play-based techniques to teach basic skills, see our tip sheets for teachers .

My child’s school uses a lot of play-based techniques. Doesn’t this distract students from learning?
Research proves that the opposite is true! Studies show that students in schools with recess tend to experience higher academic gains than schools without recess. Play improves children’s executive functioning skills, and has been linked with gains in math and critical thinking skills. The benefits of play are both confirmed and measurable.

I didn’t get to play much when I was a kid. How do I figure out how to play with my own kids?
There is no right or wrong way to play! Even if you don’t have formal training in play-based techniques, you can still create lessons using what you know, and your own creativity.

Family dancing together.

Family dancing together.

If you are interested in finding out more ways you can weave play into your family life – explore resources from organizations like The National Association for the Education of Young Children, UNICEF and the Lego Foundation. You can also get ideas on different types of play in the various tip sheets developed by MASFEC.