Playing With Your Child
  • Blog
  • November 07, 2019

Playing with your Child

Play is not just for children. It is essential throughout our lifespan. All age groups can benefit from the physical fitness, social contact, critical thinking, and creative expression opportunities that playgrounds can offer. Playgrounds are places where children, parents, and family members of all ages and abilities can come together to engage in fun, interactive activities.

When you take your children to the park - or to the backyard - do you just watch? If so, try actively participating. This is where families can make a difference! Your child will be more engaged if you are!

Playing with your child is a perfect way to show your support for healthy physical activity as opposed to sedentary activities. Play allows you to connect with your child and be a part of her or his life in a meaningful way. These quality experiences establish fitness habits and a physical activity lifestyle that is passed along from generation to generation. We want today's children to teach tomorrow's children the value of active play on playgrounds, thereby reversing current childhood obesity trends - and this can start with you.

There are several types of play. Each can contribute to the life and development of your child. 

Free play is play that is dictated and controlled by children without adult input or guidance. Free play is beneficial to children because it allows them to experience a world in which they are the authorities because they are deciding what to do. During free play, children can work independently or together to learn, solve problems, share, negotiate and lead. Tag, neighborhood races, and spontaneous games on a playground without prompting from adults are examples of free play. Children begin to engage in free play independently at about age 7, or younger with adult support.

Imaginative play is a type of free play that involves children using their minds creatively. In other words, it is play that involves elements of dramatic play, pretend, or make believe. This generally begins at about age 2. This type of play is important because it enables children to develop their imagination and creativity and to discover and explore their interests. A child playing with an imaginary friend is an example of imaginative play. Children learn important social skills such as perspective-taking as they pretend to be the parent while playing house, the teacher while playing school or an astronaut, monster, or famous person - all while on or around a playground.

Directed play is play that occurs under the facilitation of an adult, usually to meet a specific objective (such as physical fitness) that is not necessarily chosen by the children. Directed play is important to encourage children to develop physically, emotionally, and cognitively. Kickball, four square, and hopscotch are examples of directed play because they are games with multiple rules that are usually administered and monitored by an adult, at least during the initial teaching process.

Guided play offers a loosely defined framework of social rules in which the environment may be more regulated than free play. Guided play is similar to directed play but with less guidance from the facilitator.

Play On! activities incorporate all four types of play. Each activity provides structured play, but many activities encourage children to use their imagination and to engage free play as they build and expand on activities to make them their own. For example, in the Play On! activity, "Follow the Zookeeper," children pretend to be their favorite animal while sliding down a slide, in "Cling to your Color," children touch only one color of playground equipment at a time, but what they do on that equipment is entirely up to them.

All types of play are valuable, and we encourage you to use them at any outdoor play spaces or playgrounds that are available to your child. Reports by the American Academy of Pediatrics state that play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical , cognitive and emotional strength; play is important to brain development. Additionally, these reports say that a combination of child-driven play and adult-driven play is important and that increased parent-child playtime is crucial.

Want to find out more about play and youth physical activity?

Explore Youth Physical Fitness


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