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Parents and children playing board game

Why and How to Play with Your Kids

Through play children develop motor skills, cognitive skills, language, communication and problem-solving skills. Play benefits every aspect of growing, learning, socializing and brain development. Play is also relationship building. It is an opportunity for parents to get to know their child and for children to get to know their parents. When you devote time to play with your children you build their confidence and your children feel special and valued.

There are many essential benefits to play, but not all adults are comfortable with “play-time.” And, if they haven’t experienced “child-play” in a long time, may not know where to begin.

Carizon staff members have these tips to help parents learn how to play:

  • Start small. Fifteen minutes of focussed, interactive, undisturbed time can do wonders for your child.
  • Let the child take the lead and direct the play. You can reinforce and encourage their adventurous spirit by allowing them to explore their ideas and by expressing delight in their creativity. Giving the kids control in play sends a strong message that their thoughts and interests matter.
  • Make learning play. When walking down the street, if you see a worm, take the opportunity to explore with your child. Look at it, talk about it and have them describe what they see.
  • Set boundaries and guidelines for play. You do not have to entertain your children 24 hours a day. They also need to learn to play by themselves. “We’ll play now, but we will stop at five o’clock because Mom has to make supper.” When they are younger, place them in a safe area where they can play by themselves. Also, encourage play opportunities with other children.
  • Play is not about money or big expensive toys. Kids have lots of fun colouring and creating something from a cardboard box. If it lights up and requires batteries, borrow it from a toy lending library because, chances are, it will lose its appeal in a few weeks. Consider picking up used toys from a second-hand store or a garage sale and just use a little elbow grease to clean them. Make sure, however, you check safety guidelines as you won’t have the store packaging information.
  • Play is also about experience. Too often, we get caught up in the giving and buying of toys, rather than the giving of experience and doing things together.
    Incorporate physical activity in play every day. Begin when children are little and set a good example. You don’t need to be an athlete to be active; seek a level that you can manage. Go for a family bike ride.
  • Get unplugged. Spend time with your children and teens without iPods, computer or cell phone distraction. Focus on your child and leave technology behind.
  • Create a conducive environment for play. When children are young have a traditional playroom in the basement or anywhere in your house that you are willing to have used in a rough and tumble way. Use your backyard. Go to the park.
  • Take time to care for yourself. Get your sleep, eat nutritiously and make sure you drink lots of water. You need energy to play. Remember too that play does not always have to be high energy, lying down and reading, or drawing, or even being the “Mommy roadway” for the dinky cars is also play.
  • Set aside time and stick to it. Friday night could be family night. It doesn’t matter what you do, what matters is that you do it. You may have to be somewhat adaptable when conflicts arise on family night – but the important thing is that you make it a sustainable habit.
  • Spontaneity is important too. Kids and parents are so busy and over-scheduled today that it doesn’t allow for creativity and originality. Allow for things to just happen and go with it.


Babies enjoy simple, face-to face stimulation and physical touch. Get baby out of the car seat and hold and interact. Babies are fascinated by hands. Sit and put out your fingers one at a time.

  • Simple toys, like rattles.
  • Repetitive rhymes, songs and simple books.

Toddlers are exploring and egocentric. They want to see what it is, how it works and why. Your things become toys, like pots and pans and a big spoon.

  • Colourful picture books.
  • Rhyming and repetition.

Preschoolers want to practice what they’ve seen. If you did it and they’ve seen you do it, they want to try it.

  • Creative play. Make things, like art projects or building blocks.
  • Pre-writing skills. Basic drawing and primitive artwork.
  • Language development. Learning rhymes, songs, words and stories.

Once children begin school, peers take on real importance, and parents become second fiddle. This is when it becomes important to start scheduling family time or fifteen minutes a day to keep fostering your parent/child relationship.

  • Compliment what children are learning at school.
  • Physical play. If children have been sitting a lot at school, they need active play at home.
  • Calming play before bed. Children never get tired of being read to. Establish a bed-time reading routine.

Just because your children become teens, that doesn’t mean you stop playing – it just takes on a different form. Teens, like toddlers, are looking for independence, but they still need and want your support and guidance.

  • Attend your teen’s play, basketball game, recital. Show interest and talk about it afterward.
  • Share in a sport. Go for a walk or a bike ride.
  • Play a board game. Teach them to play cribbage, backgammon or any game you enjoy.
  • Have one special TV show that you gather to watch and talk about it before, during and after.
  • Share a book or article you read that you think might interest them and talk about it.