Playing: It’s for Parents, Too

Play is the special ingredient that offers a full and joyful life.

There are many ways to play unique to each person, place, and time. As we grow and develop, we learn and enjoy life more when we play. Parents can learn and grow right along with their children by being fully present and playing.

Parenting is a profound responsibility. Both mothers and fathers can maintain a balance between the challenges and joys of parenting by remembering that play is the essence of true learning. Play and you are more curious, find more unexpected pleasures, learn moment-to-moment, and create new responses based on what you’ve experienced through play.

Newborns play with nipples; children then turn to sand and toy trucks. If play is the optimum state for learning and well-being why are many working parents driven at work and at home? Both moms and dads report feeling pressure to be “doing something” rather than playing with their children.

Why play?
When you play as parents you experience something new and can create more easily using your imagination. Whether you play the piano, love gardening and digging in the dirt, or leap out the door every morning for your run—the ways that you play are chosen by you. The choices that you make as a playful parent effect the well-being of you and your children as you grow and learn together.

Ways to play

  • Dancing with your children with or without music in your living room and outdoors in your backyard
  • Go on walks together in your neighborhood, in a local park, or take a hike or walk on the beach.
  • Always wanted to be a Diva! Sing to your children and make up the song as you go along.
  • Read out loud together as a family taking turns reading to each other. As your children grow they can take part as “reader”. (Babies learn their language skills by listening to the voices of those who play with them).
  • Tell your story to your son or daughter, share your family history, use your imagination and create a story, or talk about your day. (Babies listen and connect through physical, intellectual, and emotional channels).  By sharing stories physically, emotionally, and through the sound of your voice you are playfully creating with your children. Play with different movements, characters, a change in tone, and new settings while storytelling (like the planet Kanumba, who lives there?)  Children love the regularity of story time just before bed (and its fun for parents too!)
  • Show-and-Tell (many kitchen items such as wooden spatulas, timers, shiny objects are great items for baby’s show-and-tell. Your baby is taking in EVERYTHING the world has to offer so be inventive and have fun!—also, take some of your silks, rough, smooth garments, and play with texture and the sensation of touch). For toddlers and preschoolers–put items that are new to your child, are whimsical, or have a particular shape or texture that would be fun to feel for the first time or explore in your pocket–in a paper bag, or wrap the item up in a wash cloth in the bath and watch as the surprise packages are unwrapped.

Ways to Play in 5 Minutes—GO!
Here goes: hiking, walking, dancing, storytelling, playing with Shadow (my golden retriever); watching out for deer, crow, bunnies, coyotes, heron, eagles, heron; traveling and being a tourist in your town, reading poetry out loud, being silly in the supermarket, laughing down into the belly at least five times a day (call me and I’ll fill you in), writing poetry & creative nonfiction, hanging out with a friend over tea or at the beach, hopscotch, playing with kids and families outdoors, playing dress-up with my grandchildren, imagining my next steps, lying down on wet sand, hand dancing, drumming, taking a nap, daydreaming, camping, singing on my island walks, creating beach sculptures, dreaming.

Well, that’s my Playful Parent list (plenty more!)….what are your ways to play?

Play is the key to contentment. This article is only a taste of the many ways that all parents (married, single, divorced) can choose to play for themselves and with their children. Follow nature’s playful plan for all, no matter what your age. Parents who play create a happier, healthier life for themselves and their children

© Copyright 2011 by Mary Alice Long, PhD. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Colton

    July 20th, 2011 at 5:23 PM

    My kids feel great and respond extremely well when mommy or daddy plays with them.Not just them but even I feel good when I play with them or just do anything together with them.I think its the bonding thing that makes us feel better-that we’ve bonded with our loved ones.And play is a great and fun way to bond.

  • Kevin

    July 20th, 2011 at 8:36 PM

    I agree that play is critical in a relationship. I think it extends beyond the kids to the adults as well. If we are always serious with each other I think that the children pick up on that fact. When parents are always just so and very demure in their outlook the children generally are the same way. When parents play together the kids see this as normal and expect the same interaction to occur on their individual level.

    My family plays by singing, line dancing, riding bikes, kicking soccer balls, rolling bocce balls.. And generally just hanging out with one another.

  • P. Harris

    July 20th, 2011 at 9:25 PM

    I’m a bit of a failure when it comes to thinking of ways to play in five minutes. I draw a blank after three of them. I live in the middle of a city that doesn’t have a lot of entertainment outside the home, so hiking and deer watching is right out.

    Couple that with my nature of being realistic, and you see how limited I am.

  • Amber Anderson

    July 20th, 2011 at 9:37 PM

    @P. Harris, even if you are in the big city, children are very easy to entertain in the home when they can’t entertain themselves. My kids keep themselves busy by playing tag in the house. We have a large garden too so I simply need to keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t get hurt or run into the road without looking.

  • estelle drake

    July 20th, 2011 at 9:48 PM

    Parents need to interact with their children more. It completely tapers off I feel once the children are in middle school, and that’s when they need guidance the most. Children then grow up thinking their parents are a waste of space and don’t interact with them or get interacted with. The communication breaks down.

    My parents more or less ignored me when I was ten, and I hated them for it. They didn’t want me involved in anything for three whole years and then suddenly took an interest in me again. Go figure.

  • Lorna Swan

    July 20th, 2011 at 10:13 PM

    Most of these are aimed at parents that have young infants. What about when they start getting older? Teenagers are even harder to deal with than infants since they have their own interests and goals, often completely different from your own. What can you do for teenagers?

  • max avery

    July 20th, 2011 at 10:23 PM

    @Lorna Swan-You would handle it the same way you would interact with an adult at that point I imagine. You would learn about the interest, get into it yourself a little deeper, and maybe see if it’s something that you’ll be interested in.

    My son has got me into stuff that I never thought I would have been interested in before like gaming, which has in turn brought us closer. It’s so nice to have a common interest you can talk about and to understand-at least occasionally!-where the other is coming from. :)

  • JD

    July 21st, 2011 at 8:46 AM

    My lil daughter makes me run out of breath literally.I have no idea where the lil one gets so much energy from :D But all the huffin n puffin is is worth it to see her smile n laugh :D

  • sERENe

    July 23rd, 2011 at 5:40 AM

    My kids used to love to play. Now they look at me like I am the one who is the dork if I try to play with them these days? What happened? :(

  • Paige

    July 25th, 2011 at 4:42 AM

    Being present in both mind and spirit is something that many parents struggle with these days. Some think that the cell phone and email is way more important than playing with the kids.

  • Honoree Corder

    July 28th, 2011 at 9:22 AM

    My daughter and I were just discussing our planned play for the next few days. We’re going to go swimming, play the Wii, watch Harry Potter and read together. She really loves our time together so I make it a priority, especially during the summer when she’s around more.

  • Mary Alice Long, PhD

    August 8th, 2011 at 7:29 AM

    Thank you for all your comments. In urban areas there are many ways to play but of course different in some ways than rural or even suburbs. Parks, museums, gardens, children’s museums, etc…are great places to explore when available. Even when these play spaces are not close by (see for information about creating play spaces within reach of every kid in America) you can play tag, hopscotch, jumprope, board games like Pictionary, take a walk in your neighborhood, explore your neighborhood, city/town with new eyes…an when you consider all that there is to be grateful for, then the play field really opens up, books to read together, write a short story together, sing together and make up songs, and ? what can you dream up?

    I love the suggestion for adolescents/young adults–ways to create play and playful relationship–ecstatic following is key, it is important for your children to make choices as they grow and part of that choice is how they like to play with you, their friends, at school, in community; notice and take part in the play and you will be amazed at what you learn and you will enjoy the ride! Gaming is a good example–skateboarding, theatre, dance, singing, sports, writing, public speaking, anthropology, sciences–adolescence job is to engage and embrace their own personal authority which you can support through your interest and playful attitude as a parent.

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