Connecting with Children Through Play

Connecting with Children Through Play

by Renee Peters


“Play is the highest form of research”

A well-documented quote from Albert Einstein and if you haven’t read it somewhere before I am sure you know what he meant by it? Children learn through play.  One of my favourite things to do is to provide my son with rich play experiences.

Play isn’t just fun, it is how children learn about their world.  Through cause and effect,  experimenting, exploring their environment with their senses, observing, role playing, establishing cognitive patterns, developing on motor skills and coordination, learning important life skills; Becoming a happy healthy and thriving adult is hard work. It takes a lot of learning; some of these processes are overlooked and taken for granted.

The importance of play doesn’t end there. Yes it’s enjoyable for them and yes play is important in child development but play also provides parents with a door to connect with their child on a deep level. I always love to say that I am hands on, this I feel sums up the play connection I am referring to. Engaging and being present in play is a hands-on way to establish a deep connection and strengthen a healthy relationship with your child.

Time is a parent’s enemy when it comes to hands-on play. You have work to do, clothes to wash, errands to run, cleaning to tackle, the phone keeps ringing, the children are arguing, there is spilt milk on the floor, the kids need help with homework, dinner, a bath and to get to bed on time, the pets are starving and that cold cup of coffee that you made at 8.00 am is still sitting on the bench. I am sure you have been there before.

Connecting through play is easy when you consciously make it a priority. If you can make a time, even if it means getting up half an hour earlier or moving dinner time forward a little so you have a free 15 minutes to connect through play it can make the world of difference.

You can build a connection through play by giving your child your full attention, instead of pushing the swing while looking on your smart phone, turn the phone off. Instead of taking them to the beach and sitting back watching them, get on your knees and build a sand castle. If you are at home leave the dishes in the sink and the clothes dirty for a little longer, turn off the tv and take the phone off the hook, get down on their level and sit on the floor with them as you play.

The connection comes through your interaction; Listen to them play (really listen) you will be surprised where their imagination goes and the types of play they come up with, ask questions and talk to them,  involve yourself in their game (not with your game ideas, with theirs), show that you are interested and you may learn something about your child that you haven’t taken notice of before, watch everything they do and you may see a skill or a side to them you haven’t really paid attention to before, offer praise, positive interactions, set good examples, be present and calm, then take note of the enjoyment in that moment. That is a great connection to have that can be built if you prioritise parenting play time on a daily basis, even if its 10 minutes.

Give it a try!  Check out some of my other posts for Play inspiration

Benefits of Pretend Play  

Play in the Mud 

Lucky Dip Drawing Game


adventuresathomemomRenee Peters is a regular contributor to Positive Parenting Connection. She is  also the author of Adventures at home with Mum and is a Australian hands on playful, stay at Home Mum to two children. 

Read more about Renee and the Positive Parenting Connection Team.

4 Responses to Connecting with Children Through Play

  1. Thank you for this. It came at the right time in my parenting journey. I need the reminder to unplug and join the kids.

  2. Hi Renee, I know this is an old post so not sure if I can expect a reply, but I am looking for a little guidance about one aspect of pretend play. Our almost-4yo daughter loves pretend play with a passion … I struggle to engage with it but I am trying and learning as I go. Recently, DD, who is extremely cooperative, thoughtful and respectful of those around her, started using pretend play to explore “naughty” (a word she has seemingly picked up at daycare etc) behaviours … “Mumma, pretend your doll hit my doll” or “pretend I won’t let you play with us” (in a nasty tone) or “pretend you pushed your friend over” etc … Things that she might see other children do but that would be very uncharacteristic for her.
    I am wondering whether it is helpful for me to ‘go along’ with these scenarios and see where she takes them, or whether it is more important to reinforce the ‘rules’ in these situations? Mostly I go with “we don’t hit our friends, honey” or “it might be nice to include others in our play if they want to join in” etc, but this is really stepping out of the pretending to give instruction, and she seems very dissatisfied … but I am so uncomfortable with even pretending to be a bully or a baddie that I don’t follow her storyline.
    Maybe you (or someone else may) have some ideas/thoughts to help me navigate this important learning experience – I would love to find a way to connect with my little one through this.
    Many thanks, Shona.

  3. Hi Shona,
    This is such a great question because this pretend play scenario really offers you and your daughter a beautiful chance to talk about friendships! I would venture a guess that your daughter has questions on how to handle these early social situations. Do you think that maybe she has observed such instances and dislikes it? In your shoes, I would follow along the story line, and see if your daughter is looking to talk about what it feels like to be left out of play – even if it never happened to her,she seems very curious. Mostly it seems like she wants a safe way to explore these early play rules (pushing, sharing, playing together, not letting others play) and pretending is a great way to explore all that. If you are the “meanie” maybe she will practice being assertive, or use the opportunity to cry. You can also play that the “meanie” has a change of heart! “NO, you can’t play with us! hahahah.” Pause… notice her feelings emerging. Does she look sad? “Oh no, you look sad. I think i hurt your feelings. wow, I feel bad about leaving you out. I am sorry about that. I want to be your friend. do you have something you want to play?” Follow her lead, as you say she is dissatisfied just with best guess, she is really asking for that safe and fun way of learning some skills for friendship building! Be well, Ariadne

  4. Wow, Ariadne, thank you SO MUCH for your thoughts and ideas – this is incredibly helpful for me!! Especially the “change of heart” idea, it makes real sense of a tricky scenario for me! I will definitely be thinking about this during our pretend play :0)
    Thanks again! Shona xx

Follow Us

Copyright Notice: It is not permitted to copy, re-blog or distribute contents without prior written permission from the Positive Parenting Connection.