Play is Serious Learning!

"Time Spent Playing with a Child is Never Wasted"
–Dawn Lantero

“How often should I play with my child?” This is something I hear quite frequently. Parents and caregivers struggle with finding a balance in playing with their child, giving their child independence, providing for their family, taking care of themselves, going to work, cleaning the house, and spending time with friends.


On the other hand, some families do not realize that interaction and play can have an important impact on their child’s interaction with and understanding of the world. It is hard to know if you are doing too much or too little. We do not want our families to burn themselves out trying to entertain their children and also keep up with daily life, but we also know that it isn’t healthy for children to be in front of a screen all day either. So, what is the balance?

"At 6, 12, and 18 months, I honestly wasn't sure if she would ever talk. Hearing her express her ideas, have conversations, and sing (!) now at 3.5 regularly brings tears to my eyes." — Gina D. (full review lower)

Part of my job as a speech therapist in early intervention is to help families learn what their child needs in order to develop appropriate speech and language skills. This means I have a wide range of strategies and recommendations that can be incorporated into daily activities. These strategies vary and depend on each family’s needs. I always tailor strategies to fit the family. However, my first recommendation will always be to spend time playing with your child. To clarify, playing with your child does not only mean sitting next to them and observing. Playing requires turn-taking, talking, and fun. If your child is on the floor, you need to be on the floor with them. If the child is stacking blocks, you need to stack blocks with them. Let your child take the lead and follow along. Show them that you are interested and engaged, and they will stay interested in the activity.


After I encourage families to play with their child and teach them some strategies for doing that, I am usually asked, “But when am I supposed to get stuff done?” You are not alone if you have asked yourself this question. Many families worry about this because they think that a child needs to be entertained every minute of every day. Since that is impossible to do, parents often resort to screen time. Screen time does keep your child engaged but too much can cause delays in speech language development and other areas. The American Academy of Pediatrics has specific recommendations on screen time depending on the age of your child. They recommend no screen time for children under two years old, except for video chatting. For preschoolers, they recommend no more than one hour of high-quality programming per day.


Instead of screen time, you should expect your child to play independently. Playing alone helps foster a child’s ability to problem solve while promoting creativity, building confidence in skills, and providing a chance to explore independently. To encourage independent playing, we recommend starting with a few favorite toys in a designated play space. This space should be child proofed and easily accessible for the parent. The first weeks of promoting independent play, the parent should expect to stay nearby and to check on your child frequently. As your child becomes older, independent play may become an art project or reading a book.


In addition to playing alone, children need opportunities to observe others and participate in daily activities. This is the hardest time for most of my families. With today’s busy world, everyone wants to get things completed as fast as possible so they can move on to the next task. When a child helps, it can take twice as long and create more chaos than if done without them. But it is so important to let children help with daily activities and it can make even a tedious task more fun for you. Children love to be involved in preparing meals, doing laundry and even cleaning chores. It may not be done perfectly but it will give your child a sense of accomplishment, build their self-esteem and help them understand their role in your family. Working on things together will also give you the opportunity to talk to your child and introduce them to useful vocabulary. Children learn by observing and doing. Allowing them to participate in your daily activities will help them learn to live independently and will also help you build strong family bonds.


The issue of playing with a child and exactly how much time is needed comes up frequently. The answer is not simple. It requires balance and can change depending on family dynamics. There will be days when you cannot balance everything and that is okay. We are here to help you with the balance. If you or your child is struggling with play or if you feel your child’s language is not developing as it should, please call us for a free consultation.

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"Jessie is such a loving and caring therapist. Her passion for helping her patients and families show every visit. She is open to what works for each patient while being effective and productive. She is responsive and able to adapt to her patient's moods. Speech therapy has never been my son's favorite, and he has been to known to be a bit difficult, but it never slowed Jessie down. She was always so loving and made the sessions fun for him. I would recommend her to anyone looking for a great therapist." – Belinda