A Peoria Park District Facility

Play is Essential Work: A Parenting Guide

According to the Academy of American Pediatrics, children need play now more than ever. Play helps children relieve stress and cope with fear and anger. It allows children to express their feelings and ideas. Play is how children explore and learn. 

Ideally, parents take an active role in their children’s playtime, at least some of the time, to help them get the most out of their playtime. But it’s ok to let children know when you are busy and need some grown-up time. Instead of trying to play with your children all the time, give them your full attention for some time during the day, even if it’s only 20 minutes.


Tips for parents when playing with children:

  • Interact with your children
  • Ask open ended questions about what your children are doing
  • Encourage the child when they complete a task
  • Assist the child when they need help
  • Do not provide answers right away, let them think on their own
  • Work together to complete a task
  • Enjoy spending time together

Playtime is a safe space for children to explore their emotions and the world around them. There are lots of different ways kids play. 

Object-based play

When kids are playing with objects (a ball, or pots and pans, or legos) they are: experimenting, learning problem solving and creativity, and developing spatial skills. Adults can support this by:

  •  allow children to play in an open-ended way - the blocks don’t have to go in a certain pattern! 
  • when kids ask for help solving a problem, you may want to ask open questions to help them find their own answers. 

A few related activities from PlayHouse at Home are Music time, Bottle bowling, and Build a blanket fort

Pretend Play

Pretend play is when children make up stories, or pretend one thing is something else. A piece of string may become a stethoscope; a box might be a cave. They might become a dragon or a superhero! This type of play gives kids the opportunity to address feelings, anxieties, and fears. Assigning feelings to a pretend character allows children to explore complex emotions with reduced anxiety, and sends the message that it is safe to have and express those kinds of feelings. Adults can support this by:

  • allow children to determine the pretend world and storyline
  • enter children’s imaginative world (rather than imposing your own).

A few related activities from PlayHouse at Home are Doe a Deer - Quiet Little Fawn Game; Make a puppet and put on a show, and Make a Pet Hospital for your stuffed animals. And remember, anything can be transformed - a towel can be a cape, fingers can be antlers, a tie can be a tail - you don’t need to go out and buy anything to activate kids’ imagination!

Physical activity

Play involving physical activity - which is especially difficult and very necessary right now - is important for motor coordination as well as healthy weight and a healthy heart. Kids who get to play outdoors may be less prone to depression. Adults can help channel kids’ energy by:

  • give children challenges that get them to move
  • find time for children to be outside (but six feet or more away from children and others not in your family!). 

A few related activities from PlayHouse at Home are Play Ball, Soccer Drills, Time to Dance, and Housework Hustle!

Digital Play

Being at home all the time changes our usual daily routines, and with e-learning this likely includes screen time. In the digital age, it is impossible to separate technology from traditional play. Digital play is still play, and it is not going away any time soon. Worried about too much screen time? Here are a few tips from author Anya Kamenetz for managing screen time in kids at this moment: 

  • focus on WHAT kids are doing on screens, instead of limiting all screen time - balance educational screen time, fun screen time, and moving away from the screen 
  • help kids know when they have spent too much time in front of a screen - kids might get cranky or their eyes might get blurry when they look at screens for too long 
  • use screens to give kids the opportunity to connect with friends and family in other places - kids can be on a screen and playing a word game, reading a book, or building something with a friend while on screens, or watching a movie with others in their home
  • turn off screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime

Playing AND Working from Home

Finally, we know working from home while caring for young children is crazy and impossible and necessary. A few tips for balancing working from home with attending to your kids:

  • Create a dedicated work space
  • Schedule in blocks of time to spend with your kids - maybe 15 minutes after a work meeting. Take this time to go into a separate space and focus on each other - maybe go outside and kick a ball around!
  • If your kids need something while you are working, give them a burst of attention - 30 really focused seconds - and then let them know you need to get back to work. 


The Peoria PlayHouse Children's Museum

The Peoria PlayHouse Children's Museum