What is child-led play?
Child-led play is allowing your child to direct and lead the play activity. Children will choose what they want to play based on their interests and how they will carry on with play without adult direction. We as adults then wait to slowly join their play and enter their world by following their cues, ideas, and motives.
What are the benefits?
- Sustained focus: Children tend to learn best when they are motivated by what they are interested in. Since they chose this activity, they are having fun and will tend to stay engaged for a longer period of time.
- Ownership and agency: Your child can build self confidence by leading and implementing their own ideas into their play.
- Relationship building: You can learn more about your child’s interests and play skills. This can help strengthen the bond by sharing the experience of play and joy together .
- Communication: Your child can build language skills and social development skills by hearing you repeat what your child says with more detail and narrating their play.
- Creativity: Child-led play allows your child to use their imagination to expand on their play ideas.
How exactly can I follow their play?
- Get down to your child’s level! Getting on the floor with them, looking directly at them, and showing interest in their play is a great way to build upon your relationship.
- Allow your child to take initiative! Follow their plan and if your child begins to shift focus onto something new, shift your attention with them.
- Imitate your child’s gesture and play while engaging in activities with them.
What should I avoid?
- Giving commands such as “Put the block on top of the other block” or “Feed the doll”.
- Quizzing or asking your child too many questions such as “Where is the cow?” “What shape is this?” “What noise does the car make?”
- Directing their play with your ideas by commenting “Let’s build a tower with the blocks instead” while playing with blocks, for example.
Example activities to Follow
Open-ended toys and activities are a great place to start with following your child’s lead in play. Allow your child to use their creativity in play and follow along!
- Block play
- Children can stack blocks, knock them down, bang blocks together, make a train, pretend they are other objects like a phone
- Push the cars, push other toys with the cars, make the cars fly, stack the cars
- Smashing playdough together, mixing colors, rolling playdough, pretending to make cookies or a snowman
Briana Renteria MS, DT
Brown, D. (2021, November 11). What does following the child’s lead really mean? We chose play, joy every day. Retrieved September 14, 2022, from https://affectautism.com/2016/11/15/follow/
Child directed play – seattle children’s. (n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2022, from https://www.seattlechildrens.org/globalassets/documents/for-patients-and-families/ce/CE043-child-directed-play.pdf
Cohen, Nancy & Lojkasek, Mirek & Muir, Elisabeth. (2006). WATCH, WAIT, AND WONDER: An Infant-led Approach to Infant-parent Psychotherapy. The Signal. 14.
Following your child’s lead – ecta center. (n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2022, from https://ectacenter.org/~pdfs/decrp/PGF_INS2_following_2018.pdf
Photo Credit: Primrose Schools via primroseschools.com