The Ten Kinds of Play

If one of the hallmarks of the early years through the teenaged years is play, it helps us as parents to know about the different kinds of play and what these look like.  In this way, we can help our children achieve healthy play if healthy play is difficult for them.

The number one thing to do to help encourage ALL of the kinds of play I am listing below includes turning off all screens – TV, computer, video games, etc.  Stop them cold turkey.  This is important for all small children as we offer a gesture of protection, but this is especially important if  your child is having trouble with creative play.  And start to schedule in large amounts of “unscheduled” time.  That sounds contradictory, scheduling in unscheduled time, but children of today are rushed from adult-led activity to adult-led activity.  They need time to just daydream and be – that is the genesis of being creative.

Here are some types of play:

  • Large Motor play – climbing, jumping, swinging,  crawling
  • Small Motor play – Fine motor play might include things such as sorting objects, stringing objects, bringing objects in and out,
  • Rules- based play – You see this a lot in pick –up games led by children.  I saw this this weekend at a 4-H event where I observed a  very large group of children ages 8-14 or so were playing kickball.  They figured out where the bases would be, what the foul line was, how far apart the bases should be after a few rounds, etc.  They were making the rules and changing the rules as they went along.  Children do not acquire this skill in adult-led youth sports.  Youth sports NEED to be balanced out by neighborhood pick-up games that are led by children working together.
  • Construction play – Building play.  We often think of building forts, ships or houses but I would also include older children building ramps for a skateboard or bike.  
  • Make-believe play – we see this often in kindergarten aged up children.  At first props may be needed, but older children, even ages 9-11 often have elaborate make-believe games with characters and scenarios.
  • Language play – Using words for play – telling stories, playing with words and rhymes, circle games and songs…..  This can overlap large motor play in the case of jump rope rhymes or hand clapping games.
  • Playing with art – Modeling, creating music, drawing, making posters and puppet shows are all examples of this kind of  play.
  • Sensory Play – playing with sand, mud, water, gathering natural objects that have different textures. 
  • Rough and tumble play – Animals do this too!  This is how children often learn body awareness and boundaries.  This kind of play often needs to be watched to make sure boundaries are set for how aggressive or how dominant a player becomes, but it is important for children to play like this.
  • Risk taking play – Play can and should involve risk.  You most likely will not find this on a conventional playground, but out in nature and even in childhood games.  In a childhood game, this is estimating risk – can I steal to that base? can I run fast enough to make it to “home” without being tagged?  In nature, this might be how high can I climb in this tree?  Will this branch in the tree or log across this stream support my body weight?  This is an important kind of play.  I think this type of play can easily morph in the later middle school and high school years into things that are active, involve an element of risk, but are generally a safe way to get risk-taking behavior out there.  For seventh and eighth graders and up, think about dirt biking through a Motorcycle Safety Awareness club, a tree obstacle course with ziplines, more strenuous hiking and camping, anything with animals such as horseback riding or dog training, rock climbing, skiing, etc.  Help children develop their own abilities to assess risk.  This is an important skill for life.

What kinds of play are your children doing? Can you think of a type of play that is not on this list?


Are We Doing It All Wrong?



Here are some great links this week to make you stop and think.  Let’s all be the change we wish to see, advocate for our children, and keep the momentum I see happening in so many places at the grass-roots level in different states keep going.  This is how change often happens in the United States.  Be the change!


Do American parents have it backward?


This article is a MUST-READ for all parents of small children.  Children do need rhythm, repetition, time to be outside, time to play in an unstructured manner.  They do not need lessons, or rigid adult-created games.   The adult is there primarily to “un-stick” play and to guide, to provide help for the ideas the children create, to have the environment and the rhythm in place.   Read more about the differences between what the differences between academic and play-based preschools bring here: Continue reading

In Honor Of Screen Free Week


This week, May 5th through May 11th, is Screen Free Week.  I have a few links I would love to share with you all to inspire you to change your family’s viewing habits, plus three simple things you can do to keep this momentum going if being screen free is new to you and your family.


Here is the official website for Screen Free Week:


Here is great article by a psychologist about the risks of screen time.  Her thought is that it is not the message (ie, whether or not the show is “educational”, but the medium of the screen itself).  This is an interesting article:


A great You Tube video for adults  about “Looking Up”.  British rhyming tells a truthful message:




Top Three Ways to Continue the Momentum of Screen Free Week:

1.  Play Outside!  Children need lots and lots of unstructured play.  In this day and age, we seem to hover over our children and getting them outside can be a chore as opposed to what it was when we were growing up – we went out to play after school until the street lights came on and we were called home.  Or, we consider the fact that our children are in active sports to take the place of play.  Nothing takes the place of unstructured play.


Children even need risky play.  Here is an article from Psychology Today that talks about why:


Inspire yourself with folks who love to get outside.  Try the Children & Nature Network:  and also Renee’s blog over at FIMBY as her family hikes the Appalachian Trail:


2.  Have a list handy of things to do without a screen:

If you have small children and you know they melt before dinner whilst you are trying to cook and you are depending upon a screen for entertainment (this is the most common scenario I get in my email), have a plan.  Salt dough can work well, as can providing jobs to help the work of the family.


3.  Set new rhythms that do not involve any screen time.  Many mothers have told me over and over that it is much easier to cut the screens for their children out completely than to “wean off” or set a small limit, because then when the screen goes off there is arguing.  Cut down your own computer time.  Do you really need to be on social media sites for two hours a day?  What else could you do during that time? 



Computer Gaming and Children: Practical Advice

(As a Waldorf family, our instant answer to the question of computer gaming and children  is “no”!  Childhood lasts until age 21 and it is our job to protect our children. However, I also get mail from many families that are not Waldorf families, and their children are already playing computer games at young ages and playing a lot, so I asked my husband for some moderate thought on this issue.  You will notice he advocates strong limits on gaming for teenagers and to not start until the high school years or longer if possible.  There are many fun alternative ways to spend time, but for families who choose to have their teenagers participate in gaming, he lists the pitfalls to be aware of.  I appreciate his insight here. – Carrie)

For the last five years my lovely wife Carrie has been publishing her thoughts, ideas and experiences to the world in this blog.    In that five years I have supported her and this blog from both the emotional and technical side.  That’s not only my role as her husband, but as the father of our children.

controllerThroughout that time, Carrie would often ask guests to post and add to the conversation where it makes sense.The topic of computer gaming and its impact on children is a question that Carrie has received frequently, though in recent months the requests and comments about this subject have increased.   Clearly this is a subject that should be addressed and Carrie has very nicely asked me to post on this subject. Continue reading

The Essential Soul Tasks Of The Early Years

Dearest Friends,

During my time of moving houses, I have had several very important issues swirling about in my head with no opportunity to write them down until tonight.  So, you will be seeing some deeply thought and deeply held posts coming from The Parenting Passageway over the next several days.

One thing that I was thinking about fervently was the essential soul tasks of the small child.  If you have been a long-time reader of this blog, I hope over the years I have convinced you of the utmost importance of the physical development of the small child through time and space outside.  We think of a very tiny child of ages birth through three as struggling through space over time to achieve being upright, then progressing to speech and from speech flowing into thought.  During the Early Years, we also develop our  twelve senses, and I often think of such things as the awareness of our bodies (what is us?  what is others?).  This is done through work and also through imaginative play.

But on the soul level, there is a very important task for this age, which is relating to others, and how the child finds their place within a group.  The small child’s experiences with trust of others, belonging with others, finding safety and acceptance of others and within others is all part of this experience.  So is the reverence that we often cannot fully see until we stand present with another.  I have had the wonderful experience of my almost three year old and his very best friend on earth whom I shall call Little Friend.  He and Little Friend adore each other; they run to see each other in the utter thrill that only two best friends can share and laugh in joy.  They chase “moonbears” (their code name for grasshoppers) through the grass, wonder at each spider web and bug, and show such deep reverence and awe at each step of Creation.  It is amazing to watch and it has shown me the deep ability of the small child to love outside of his own immediate family.  For some of you, this is a moment of “Duh!” and for some of you this is a moment of thoughtfulness.  If you can think back to your smallest days, where did you feel safe?  Where did you feel loved?  Where did you feel you belong?  Where were you part of a community?  Did you feel accepted and loved or on the outside?  Why?  How would you answer these questions about your own children?

I have received three separate emails this week asking about five or five and a half year olds and finding the balance of being home and the need for friends (or not).  I think many homeschoolers would say there is no need for interaction outside the family per se; especially perhaps for those with larger families.  But for those with smaller families or children who are close to age six with only a baby perhaps to “play” with, the question remains…  And then people tell me they have tried to look for community and nothing that resonates with them is available, so what do they do?  Do they do classes?  How do they meet people?  Is playing with a friend once a month or once every few months enough? Continue reading

Kidscapes, Nature In The City and More!

A dear reader from Down Under recently passed this link onto me:

This site really has wonderful suggestions for creating nature “kidscapes” – and even if you don’t have your own yard,  this section has valuable ideas for the types of experiences in nature that would be helpful in developing the twelve senses for young children.  This website also has this document: which is more specific to preschoolers.  I suggest printing out both and putting them in your Homemaking Notebook (if you have one) for planning purposes for fall and also as just general good reminders! 

In this document: ( ), I found this terrific quote: 

Think Small. A nature play space for you and your adult friends can be a 50,000-acre wilderness area, but for kids you have to think and plan on their scale! To best engage and excite young children, keep play area paths, structures, plantings, and challenges all significantly smaller than what you might normally envision for your typical visitors. It really doesn’t take much to delight a five-year-old, to whose eyes the world is incalculably larger than it is to yours! More small delights will keep kids playing longer than fewer large-scale ones.”

All I can say is, OH YES!  I have fielded this particular  question many times over the years: Is Waldorf only for people who live in the country? What do I do since I live in the city?

Waldorf Education and connection to nature is for everyone! I encourage families in the city to think about “adopting”  a tree on their block,  feeding the birds and putting out a bird feeder or feeding the pigeons.  You can also bring nature inside your home. For example, having and observing the lifecycle of caterpillars into butterflies, tadpoles into frogs, worm composting and ant farms,  keeping snails in a jar for a day or so so you can closely look in wonder at this fascinating creature. All of these things are wonderful and can be done in any setting – urban, suburban or rural.

Other ideas include container gardening, going a few places annually year after year like apple or berry picking, growing herbs in a windowsill garden, going outside to really feel the rain or the snow, looking for Jack Frost’s paintings on your window…all can be done wherever!

So I guess my thought is so long as you show wonder and reverence for the spot of nature where you are, ants and dandelions count!   Nature crafts are also wonderful for the smaller crowd to work hands-on with nature in an artistically pleasing way.

Please do be sure to check for some simple nature stories or make them up! The other resource you might like would be Donna Simmons’ From Nature Stories to Natural Science available here:

This back post on nature is near and dear to my heart; if you have not read it before perhaps you would enjoy it:

Many blessings,


Make Your Voice Heard With Alliance For Childhood!

This came into my mailbox and thought I would pass it on; it concerns the common core standards for childhood education.  These core standards, as far as I can see, are not at all based upon any form of traditional childhood development standards as we know of…Please read on for how you can help!

Alliance for Childhood

P.O. Box 444, College Park, MD 20741

Tel/Fax 301-779-1033

Update—March 2010:  Rethink the “Core Standards”


Dear Friends,
As many of you know, the Alliance for Childhood is gravely concerned about the newly proposed “common core standards” for children in kindergarten and the early grades. Hundreds of early childhood health and education professionals have signed the Alliance’s joint statement on the K-3 standards calling for their withdrawal. Now is the time for each of you to take action on this critical issue.
After months of drafting in secrecy, the final proposed version of the K-12 standards was released by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) on March 10. Some aspects of this version are better than the draft that was leaked to the press in January; some are worse. But overall we are sure these standards will intensify an already inappropriate emphasis on cognitive development of young children that is divorced from social-emotional and physical development. Current practices are already causing enormous stress in children’s lives. These new standards will add to that.
The NGA and CCSSO have announced that the proposed standards are “available for comment” until April 2, after which they will revise the standards and issue the final version. Unfortunately, this is not a true public comment process, such as would be required for an important piece of legislation moving through Congress. Yet the federal government has announced that billions of tax dollars—including “Race to the Top” and Title I education funds—will be tied to states’ adopting these standards. We are deeply troubled by this entire process.

The NGA and CCSSO have set up an online survey to collect comments. The survey is rather confusing. Here are the steps you need to take to ask that the early childhood standards be withdrawn and reconsidered:

1. Go to

2. Scroll to the bottom of the home page and click on the link to the questionnaire.

3. At the “Section 2—Feedback” page, choose the third option, “English Language Arts and Mathematics Standards.”

4. The next page asks you to “select the level of feedback you would like to give.” Choose the second option, “General Feedback and Feedback on Specific Sections.”

5. On the “Specific Feedback—English Language Arts” page, check the four boxes for K-5 (Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language). This will enable you to select “Remove or entirely rewrite” as your preference if you agree with our position.

6. On the “Specific Feedback—Mathematics” page, check the four boxes for Kindergarten, Grade 1, Grade 2, and Grade 3. This will enable you to select “Remove or entirely rewrite.”

It is vital that you submit comments and get friends and colleagues to do the same. It’s a small window of time between now and April 2, but the biggest one Americans have had yet to speak out about the need for strong, experiential, play-based approaches to early education. Use the boxes for “additional comments” in the questionnaire to inform policymakers about your own experiences and concerns about early education.
See the Alliance web site,, to read our statement on the standards, the comments of many of the signers, and more details on how you can respond. Policymakers need to hear from us all, especially parents and teachers. Their voices are rarely heard on educational issues. It’s time to act.

Carrie here:  This was a message I received in my in-box and it was too important to not pass it on.  Thanks for your help!

Many Blessings,


Toys! Toys! Toys!

One of the most common questions one hears in the Waldorf World is about toys –  those beautiful, expensive, wooden, natural fiber toys.  How does one transition into those, what does one do with the plastic toys, how does one handle inappropriate gifts?

Uh, pour yourself a cup of tea and come back, because this is a big subject.

I really respect all the natural toymakers out there and Waldorf sellers of natural toys.  They are wonderful.   (Also, I am not against plastic toys at all, some of them – legos come to mind, some families love Playmobile or matchbox cars).   However, there are a few things to keep in mind regarding toys, before you start adding to your child’s toy collection with natural toys.

The first thing to keep in mind is that you do not need many toys at all.  I wrote a post about this awhile back, why not click over and see if it resonates with you?  Here it is:

Kim John Payne also gets to the heart of this in his book “Simplicity Parenting” (for a review see here:  I believe Marsha Johnson also has a wonderful article in her FILES section of her Yahoo!Group ( to join) addressing this very topic.  Both of these resources talk about the positive effects of LESS. 

Under this topic, I  have to mention that a beautiful wooden kitchen is still a beautiful wooden kitchen, but a box can be a kitchen, a spaceship, a house, a cave…the possibilities are endless!  So, I guess my point is that whilst I too love the wooden toys and natural toys, do keep in mind that the simplicity of it all should be in toys that can be more than one thing, toys that can transform as a child’s play flows from one thing to another.

Toymaking with children or with your children in mind is also important.  You don’t need a lot of skill to start, and the book “Toymaking With Children” really lays this all out for you:   Why not consider making your own toys?

The second thing to keep in mind is the age of your child and the development of play, so you know what toys are appropriate and needed.  This way you do not put out all the toys a child from birth to seven will go through at once, but only the ones specific for that age and only a handful so you can rotate them in and out.

Ages Birth – Two- and –a- half:  Their own hands and feet are the best toys in the first year, and perhaps I would add a beautiful mobile or Nature Table to look at.  Around the toddler years, one could add a VERY SIMPLE knotted or  bunting -style doll.  There are instructions on how to make one of these in “Toymaking With Children”  Meredith has a nice post regarding dolls here over at Waldorf Reviews:

Wooden spoons, pots, bowls are all welcome as well, along with baskets to fill and dump, and also some playcloths to set up a corner in which the child  can hide or rest.  I would also add blocks, pails for the sandbox, a basin to put water in for play. 

It is important that every toy has a home and is cared for with love and reverence.  A doll should be included in your rhythm as part of the family and cared for with love.  🙂  Here is an article from Gateways regarding the relationship of the child to the doll:

More Notes About Play During This Period:  “Toymaking With Children” has this to say about birth to the third year:  “The adult’s actions are absorbed not consciously but lovingly.  At first, children limit themselves to apparently purposelessly imitative activity.  They go around the room like their mother, picking up things which she has just tided away, only to put them down again somewhere else.  When the mother fills her pot with potatoes, the child fills a basket or cart with building blocks.”

So, being able to show your child some WORK is of utmost importance.

Ages Two-and-a-Half to Age Five:   This is where fantasy and imaginative play really emerge.  The children of this age take the toys and pretend they are whatever they need at the moment – things for a store, things for the farm.  Open-ended toys such as playsilks and clips to make a house is wonderful, playstands are often used at this age, and baskets filled with open-ended objects from nature such as shells, stones, pinecones, etc that can become whatever the child needs in the moment. 

Playing in nature is very important at all ages, but especially at these ages.  Mud, sand, water are all the child’s playground. 

Work hard into picking up WITH your children and making it fun; they will not go and pick up by themselves with just a verbal command.  They are imitating you, and you get to be the leader of a fun game for cleaning up.  Put the time for clean-up into your rhythm.

Ages Five to Seven Years:  A doll with arms and legs to dress and undress is important at this age.  Simple toys and crafts Waldorf sellers that focus a bit more on fine motor skills may be appropriate at this point for those times of inbreath, but time in nature and developing gross motor skills is still so important – can your child ride a bike?  Walk on stilts?  Do the monkey bars?  Swim in the deep end?  Jump rope?  Play hopscotch?

You might be saying, this is wonderful, Carrie but what do I do with all of my plastic toys?

Families I have known have approached this in several  ways.  First, do sort through the toys and discard the ones that are broken.  Your children may  enjoy finding toys to give away to goodwill, but in my experience, many children do not.  Yet, many parents feel badly about going through their children’s toys and donating them.  Sometimes what works is to leave out a few toys and put the other toys in boxes for rotation into the play area.  If you arrange your toy area in a beautiful way, you may be surprised about your children being more content with LESS.  You may even be able to donate a few of those boxes of plastic toys as no one asks for them ever again as some more open-ended toys come in to the space.    I also encourage families going through this to cut back on media and plan some activities outside. Get the children involved in your practical work.  Set up play scenarios to show them how this would work.  Tell them fairy tales, spark their imagination.

Here are a few back posts to help:

and this one:

Most of all, please be confident!  You are not taking toys away from your children but increasing the quality of their play through the power of less!

Many blessings,


Changes at Bella Luna Toys!

Bella Luna Toys has new ownership just in time for the holidays.  Sarah Baldwin is a well-known Waldorf educator and has just taken over Bella Luna. She will be maintaining and developing a further relationship with Christopherus Homeschool as well.

For further details, here is a link:

Many blessings,


Helping Young Children to Play

As promised, here are a few more thoughts regarding how to help young children play.

The number one thing is to know that in order to help your child to play, you need to understand the stages of play development.   Realistic expectations are very important!

From Ages Newborn to Two and  a Half:  Not many toys are needed.  A special doll, (arms and legs are not necessary), wooden spoons, pots and bowls are all lovely, along with baskets to fill and dump.

Barbara Patterson and Pamela Bradley write in “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge:  Nurturing Our Children from Birth to Seven”:  “We may not be able to complete our tasks with a child around, but HOW we do our work is more important than what we accomplish.  If we are only able to do fifteen minutes of concentrated work when a child is present, it will be fifteen minutes well spent.”

Notice there is NOT talk of sacrificing time with your child to do work, but that the work enlivens the life and energy of the child and the household. 

Two and a Half to Five Years:  The first bit of fantasy play emerges around the age of three – so if you are expecting your  two-year-old child to just take off and play a game they make up, this may be unrealistic.  Likewise, if you have a four and a half year old who cannot create any kind of games with toys, then you may need to help them catch up where they should be with play. 

So, around three years of age comes “let’s pretend”.  Reality and fantasy are the same and are not separated.  This is the stage where open ended toys are so important, because the play can shift dramatically from minute to minute and the toys need to keep up!  Baskets of silks, crystals, pinecones and such are all great things for this age group to create with. 

Children of this age generally do NOT share toys well.

Five to Seven Years:  Children are very involved in the creation of the game (which really is the whole game, not so much the end product).  For example, if children of this age are playing restaurant, the play may be all about deciding a menu, “writing” a menu, gathering things, setting up tables, and the “real” restaurant part where people sit down and order and someone plays the waiter may not happen. 

Children of this age enjoy dolls with arms and legs and clothes to dress and undress.  Simple arts and crafts are wonderful as well.  The six-year-old who is going through the six-year-old transformation and is restless and “bored” may  not need more play, but instead practical work until they are ready to  play again.

The notion of practical work brings up an important point.  As always,  start with yourself and what you are modeling for your child to imitate in their play.  This is one reason Waldorf in the Early Years has a great focus on practical work with the hands so your child can see that!  Gardening, knitting, baking, cooking, canning, music, cleaning things by hand, hanging laundry out to dry are all good places to start.

As mentioned, children need less toys than you think, but open ended toys are good.  People get very caught up in buying the silks and expensive wooden toys, but really homemade toys are the best.  There are a number of books regarding toymaking with children, one of my favorites is “Toymaking with Children” by Fraye Jaffke as seen here:  This would be a great book to get to make your children some gifts for the holidays!  You can start now and make some fabulous things!  There are also examples throughout this book showing playspaces that are set up with silks and open-ended toys so you can see how to do this yourself at home!

Create your playspaces close to where you spend your time – if you are in the kitchen, have a playroom near the kitchen or take a corner of your kitchen and have a play corner there. 

Involve your children in your work – your real work where they can contribute and feel as if they played a vital role.  Use singing, warmth, stories to draw your child in rather than commands to “help” which usually causes the child to run the other way!

If you are working and child has “nothing to do” or needs your assistance to start playing again, you can provide  them an opportunity to help you, you can essentially become “the old woman who stirs the soup while the train is coming to town” and provide a framework for play without being completely enmeshed and immersed in the play, or you can stop your own work for a few minutes and help solve the play problem by doing whatever the child is requesting you to do.

In these ways we are close to our children, we exude warmth and love for our children and welcome them with open arms for help with play.  We don’t push them away because we have our own work, but strive to include the child as we can and help the child in their important work, the development of play!