Following your child’s lead through play

Child led play is about letting children play freely, without direction or intervention. It is about allowing children to choose what to play, what they’ll play with, with whom they will play and what the rules are.

Children are play experts. They learn so much through play in their early years learn best when they’re focused and engaged in play initiated by themselves!

Play is the highest form of research – albert einstein

Take for instance playing with blocks: as adults, we would want to use the blocks to build. But a toddler? They might just want to stack up all the blocks and smash them down – and then repeat this over and over…and over (of course!).

Another child might prefer to line the blocks up in groups of colours or perhaps little ones are more interested in working together to collect all the blocks into a tub and then emptying the them all over the floor.

Each child will find something different, and fun for them, to do.

They will direct the action, they are in control and are doing it all at their own pace and in their own way and they are discovering something each time.

Allowing children to lead not only supports their curiosity and creativity, but also empowers them. As the parent/adult, it’s about providing a safe environment for our children to explore and to test out their ideas. Your response to child led play shows that you are interested in what your child is doing and that their ideas and emotions are important to you. Your presence is also a nice support for them, that you are available to lend a hand or get involved should they ask for it.

It is all about following the child’s lead and allowing yourself to be directed – no questions asked!

Child led play also gives our children ownership of their play and experiences. This is extremely important as it helps with the development of their sense of identity and self-esteem. It develops their belief in themselves as thinkers and learners.

This is why child led play is truly wonderful. Through trial and repetition in play our children initiate, they get to practice and master skills. They learn persistence and perseverance as they are more motivated to keep going when it’s something they’re completely into.

So many positive benefits!

Whether playing by themselves or in a group setting, here are some more of the benefits children gain from child led play:

  • They learn to figure things out for themselves, to problem solve and take healthy risks
  • Develop innovative ways to think about the world and how it works based on their own interests
  • Through being creative and using their imagination, children can work through their emotions and are able to transform their feelings into actions
  • Gives them time and space to act out situations that are new or troubling to them and allows them to work through strong feelings in a safe way
  • When with other children, they can learn to plan and creatively problem solve together, to negotiate, share thoughts and feelings
How we can encourage child led play

If you’re indoors, having a few things out at a time that children can explore and investigate is all that you need. This could be just some loose parts, boxes of different shapes and sizes (this one is always popular) or tubs with lids, blocks, toy animals etc.

Being outdoors provides us with a whole bunch of natural resources children can explore together, using their imagination through play.

The best thing about child led play is that it can be done anywhere – in the home or at playgroup.

Little things….Observe. Watch. Listen. Children need time everyday with no adult directed activities. Watching or listening to your child’s self-directed play will give you valuable insights into what your child’s interests are, how they see the world and what’s going on in their imagination.

If they ask you to play along then that’s great! Follow their lead and keep the conversation going. Make comments and only ask the occasional question that encourages thinking and reasoning, like “how many blocks will fit into the bucket?” “Dolly’s plate is empty” “What else could we use…?”

Sound effects also make play heaps of fun, “beep beep!” during car play or making animal noises are great for language development too.

Have you seen our amazing Play Ideas resource? It lists some wonderful activities to encourage child led play.