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?