A Peoria Park District Facility

Play is Essential Work: A Parenting Guide

Play Tips Videos

View our Play Tips videos! Made with support from PNC Grow Up Great, these videos help parents of young children foster skills through everyday actvities.

Physical Activity


Early Literacy

Early Math

Emotional Support




These videos are made possible thanks to PNC Grow Up Great.

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The Importance of Play

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!

You can learn more about the importance of pretend play as a way to increase creativity and divergent thinking later in life from Genius of Play!

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. 


Big Topics for Little People:

Talking to your children about race

The Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum believes in celebrating the diversity of Central Illinois and teaching children about cultures other than their own. The PlayHouse's mission is to provide opportunities for ALL children to become explorers and creators of the world, no matter their race, religion, income, or background. We have done this in part through our Celebrate Peoria programs that brought community organizations to the PlayHouse to teach children about their cultures and religions. Since closing our doors in March due to community health concerns, we have been sharing a multicultural and often multilingual StoryTime at the PlayHouse video on our social channels, aimed at educating PlayHouse families about the diversity in our community.

Conversations about racial justice must start at home. Parents bear the responsibility of educating their children about race and racial injustice, no matter how difficult that conversation may seem to be. Your children are not too young to have a conversation about race. Below are some resources to start that conversation.

Talk to children about race and racial biases

  • This website provides information about how children learn to be biased, strategies to help your children deal with bias, and tips for talking about racial biases based on your child's age. This podcast from NPR discusses conversations about race from a variety of parents.

Read books about underrepresented and misrepresented communities

Representation is not always readily available. Every year, there are more children's books published about animals than about Black people. Make sure that you have books in your home that include representation of people of color, and of religions, backgrounds, and cultures that are different from your own.

Raise race-conscious children

Race isn't a subject to be ignored. Parents should be raising children to be conscious of racial injustice so that they feel comfortable having conversations about racism in society. This website provides ways to raise race-conscious children and this article from the New York Times explains details steps parents can take to raise anti-racist children.

  • How to Talk with Children about Hate Speech: This website was created by educators, psychologists, lawyers, and organizers to provide a framework for how kids learn about race and includes resources for supporting the young people in your life.
  • An Activity Book For African-American Families: Helping Children Cope with Crisis: Images of violence, stress, and hardship are presented to our children everyday over all forms of media. These images have a great impact on children. This activity book PDF  is a resource for Black parents to work through crisis with their children.
  • Activity idea: watch a half hour of TV with your child, something they would usually watch, and count the number of people of color you see on screen during the program and commercials. Often, there are very few people of color. Discuss with your child why they think that is, and why it is important for that to change.

Not sure how to start the conversation? Try finding teachable moments that already exist in your everyday life. If your child is watching television or the news with you and racism or race-related violence is discussed, pause the program to talk to them about what they just saw. Seek out books or movies that tackle these topics to help get the conversation started.

Tip: Don't do this at bedtime - make sure you have ample time to debrief and discuss these topics.

Other children's museums are sharing valuable resources as well - check out this list from the Association of Children's Museums for more information on this topic.

The Peoria PlayHouse Children's Museum

The Peoria PlayHouse Children's Museum