3 Powerful Types of Play Every Parent Needs to Know

3 Powerful Types of Play Every Parent Needs to Know

It seems that no matter where we look these days, experts are talking about the importance of play. Doctors are prescribing it. Child development experts are advocating for it. Parents everywhere are clamoring for more play in the classroom. It’s no exaggeration to say there is an educational crisis in the world today, and it stems directly from a lack of play in our children’s lives. Play makes learning fun and helps our children build executive function skills for a happy and successful life. But did you know there are THREE different types of play that have a powerful impact on our kids?

Three powerful types of play every parent needs to know!

3 Powerful Types of Play Every Parent Needs to Know

1) INDEPENDENT PLAY

Sometimes called free play or creative play, independent play is critical to the emotional and social development of our children. When children play independently, they are in charge of which materials they want to play with and what the rules of their play entail. True independent play allows young children to develop and practice new skills, which is why you’ll see toddlers and preschoolers do the same action (dump and fill, for example) over and over again.

(Read more about kids and repetition here.)

Independent play builds these executive function skills:

  • making a plan
  • solving problems
  • self-monitoring

Learn how to teach independent play to young children.


2) CONNECTED PLAY

When a child and a trusted adult do an activity together, I call it “connected play.” This type of play can be kicking a soccer ball around in the yard, going for a bike ride, or working on a puzzle. The purpose of connected play is to strengthen relationships and spend time together.

Connected play can be adult-directed or a shared process between child and parent. It’s important to take turns choosing the activity, though it’s okay to give your child a few choices to pick if you need some variety. 😉

Connected play builds these executive function skills:

  • taking turns
  • regulating emotions
  • understanding different points of view
  • having empathy and recognizing the needs of others

Learn more about executive function skills here.


Learning through play is the best way.

3) LEARNING THROUGH PLAY ACTIVITIES

If you’ve spent much time on our Facebook or Instagram pages, you know that we are a BIG fan of learning through play. It’s worth mentioning that learning through play activities are not TRUE independent play, because they are often parent- or teacher-directed. They are fun and help reinforce important academic skills, for sure–but they cannot be the only play experience for our children.

If your child attends a preschool program, be sure to ask the director what percentage of time children are given for independent (child-directed) play. These are often called “centers.” A good program will give young children the freedom to learn through exploration along with adult-directed learning activities. 

Learning activities build these executive function skills:

  • paying attention
  • staying focused
  • completing tasks

Click here to see our full directory of learning through play activities.


Until our education system remembers how children learn best, the responsibility falls on parents to make playtime a priority. The ideal is giving your children all three types of play on a regular basis.

SMARTplay mini-class

Learn more about the types of play in our SMARTplay mini-class–absolutely FREE!

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