Parents can sometimes feel pressured to play with their children, but is this always necessary?
Child-led play is fantastic because it allows children to explore their environment and learn at their own pace. If an adult is involved they will tend to take charge and tell the child the ‘right way’ to do something, while accidentally stifling their creativity. They may also solve problems for the child that, given time, the child would have worked out for themselves. Having the chance to think around problems helps children develop valuable problem solving skills that can be applied to new situations – whereas if an adult is always giving them the answers, children may take longer to find their independence.
That’s not to say adults should never play with children. It has been suggested that children can learn a certain amount by themselves, but require support if they are to learn outside of this zone (Vygotsky, 1978; Wood, Bruner & Ross, 1976). Adult-led play can help direct learning to grow a child’s knowledge further; for example, if a child is playing with building blocks, an adult can add to the experience by asking them to count the blocks or describe the colours.
A parent or carer playing alongside a child also helps develop a strong relationship between the adult and the child. Being securely attached helps give children the confidence needed to go and explore the world by themselves, and provides them with a supportive role model.
Balancing both adult-led and child-led play is therefore key to well-rounded development. As Dr Amanda Gummer, founder of Fundamentally children, explains:
“Children benefit from freedom to play, but parents are their role models, and children learn most if they are securely attached. Playing together is a great way of promoting attachment – nothing bonds like shared laughter”.
She therefore suggests that children get a ‘balanced play diet’. In the same way that nutrition is about balancing food groups, balancing different types of social play (playing alone, with friends, or with parents, for example) helps children gain the most from daily activities.
Child-led play can be encouraged by providing children with a safe and stimulating environment, as well as the freedom to explore it. Parents should avoid taking over and instead let children take the lead.
So, the answer to our question is that neither type of play is better than the other – they both have their own advantages; therefore, aim to balance these activities to make the most out of your child’s play time.
About the author
This article was written by the independent experts at Fundamentally Children. Visit www.fundamentallychildren.com for great ideas, advice and reviews. Home of the Good Toy Guide and Good App Guide, Fundamentally Children has lots of ways to help make family life fun and develop children’s skills through play. TOMY are grateful to the Fundamentally Children team for these independent articles and are proud to have toys featured in the Good Toy Guide. For more information, visit www.uk.tomy.com.