August 24, 2023

The #1 Back to School Essential – Play!

Written by Dr. Sandy Portko, Early Childhood Expertise

Lacey Latsko, Grand Rapids Children's Museum
Children running and holding balloons, showcasing the power of play.
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With back-to-school season in full swing, it’s important that parents remember the power of play in their child’s education. What may look to many as a frivolous activity, is actually the building blocks of learning.

Why Do We Play? 

  • Play is generative. Anyone who plays is creating something new, something that has never been created before. In play, we aren’t locked into conforming to a set standard of what is right. 


  • Play allows for safe risk taking. 


  • In play, there is no fear of failure because there is no failure. The absence of what is right and wrong allows for innovation. 


  • Play builds autonomy. Self-initiating behaviors are developed.


  • Play gives their hands something to do. When the hands are active, the mind engages. 


  • Play tasks focus on the big ideas, rather than details and specifics. 


  • Children are actively involved in learning when they play. They talk to each other, share ideas, speculate, laugh, and get excited. 


  • Play causes children to work together in cooperative learning groups. 


  • Play allows the child to have control over their own learning. This control then empowers the child, causing them to become more independent, more assertive, and more challenging of themselves.  


Parents are their children’s first and best playmates. Nothing enriches to bond between a parent and child like playing together. So jump in, think like a child, and HAVE FUN! 


Tips for playing with your children: 


  • Let your child take the lead. Don’t get bogged down by creating elaborate activities for your child to participate in. Turn yourself over to your child and let them take the lead. Just remember, the main goal is FUN! 


  • Play can be messy, but clean up could be part of the fun. Involve your children in cleanup by turning it into a game. Race to see who can clean up all the puzzle pieces, pretend you are cleaning for a visit from their favorite celebrity, or sing a silly song as you clean up. For more info on tips to get your child involved in chores, check out this article on Introducing Chores to Kiddos.


  • Turn everyday activities into play – what is work for an adult is play for a child. Use grocery trips as a time to play “I Spy”, go on a black sock hunt while doing laundry together, or enjoy the bubbles as you wash dishes. Remember, play is everywhere


  • Think like a child. Let go of the adult idea that there is only one way to play with a toy. See where you imagination takes you. 


  • Create memories – plan a family game night or build a box fort together. These are the future memories your child will have. When playing, you are creating a memory bank of good times together to give to your child. 


  • Talk, talk, talk to your child. Don’t be afraid to use new varying vocabulary. Children are eager language learners and like to hear new words. 


  • Say “yes” when your child asks you to play with them. Give yourself the permission to relax and play with your children. See how fun and silly it can get if you allow yourself into your children’s world for a few minutes every day. 

For more information about the power of play and how to bring play into your home as school starts up, visit 

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