Child-led Play – the Superfood of the Play Diet

February 5, 2015 Published by

Parent-led or Child-led Play?

child-let play should feature in a healthy play dietShould parents play with their kids or just leave them be? Peter Gray (research professor of evolutionary psychology, at Boston College in the United States) says; “It is important for children to be allowed to entertain themselves without adults interfering in play because that is how children learn to overcome boredom, take initiative, structure their own activities, solve their own problems and, in general, take control of their own lives”. When adults take over, he argues, they restrict a child’s freedom to experiment, be creative, and solve their own problems; meanwhile, if parents allow children to boss them around during play, the child may want to take charge of the parent outside of play. Adults can still play with children, though – board games, sports and rough and tumble games like piggy-backs are good ways to play together without the potential problems of child-led play.

It is important, therefore, to provide children with a safe and stimulating environment, as well as the freedom to explore it. A play survey by, in association with Fisher-Price, found that parents played directly with their children slightly over 2 hours a day (which is considered to be a healthy amount); in comparison, children spent less than 2 hours a day playing independently. Dr. David Whitebread (senior lecturer in psychology and education, developmental cognitive psychologist and early-years specialist at the University of Cambridge) points out that the key is allowing a healthy amount of time for both joint and child-led play.

The Importance of a Healthy Play Diet

Daughter and mother playing hide and seek.Here at Fundamentally Children, we believe in giving children a balanced Play Diet. This is a practical approach to children’s development, which places the focus on getting the right balance between all aspects of play. 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. Dr. Amanda Gummer explains that “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”.

Playing with your child helps you develop a strong relationship with them, and this provides children with the security needed to explore the world by themselves. So while child-led, independent and peer play are all good for encouraging a child’s development, spending time with your child is hugely beneficial, too – within their Play Diet, it is important to get the right balance between all of the different types of play.

Although it is great allowing your children the freedom for child-led play, don’t miss out on the opportunity to bond with them, too.



Articles cited:

Boone, S. 66% parents worry they’re not playing enough with children – experts disagree [online article].

Gray, P. Backing off is hard to do [online article].

McMahon, B. (2015) ‘How important is it to play with your child? The pyschologist’s verdict,’ The Times, 17 January





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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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