Play and Your Preschooler

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A child’s job is to play. As adults, we might think of play as nothing more than recreational fun, but for a child, it is much more than that. On Becoming Preschoolwise points out that through play, a child learns problem solving, moral skills, social skills, improved motor skills, logic, reasoning, and strategy (page 16). That is a lot of skills!

Many parents today worry about the academics and success of their children. They might also want their children to excel musically and/or athletically. Because of this, parents start flash cards with a baby and music lessons as a toddler. You can see preschoolers running up and down the soccer field with overzealous coaches and parents screaming from the sidelines.

Your child learns all of the skills listed above through play. “Play is not simply an activity that a child wants to absorb himself in, but a necessary framework of understanding his world” (page 27). You don’t need to overbook your child into formal learning organizations. Your three year old would likely learn more about T-ball if his parents played with him than throwing him into a situation with a couple of dozen other three year olds who don’t know what they are doing.

I am not saying organized sports or lessons are inherently bad. There is a time and season for them. The point here is to not overlook the value of play. Overbooking your child denies him the opportunity to play since he is so busy running from lesson, to practice, to games, to recitals…the list goes on.

The other end of the spectrum is allowing your child to engage in too much absorption activities like television. This is not play. I don’t think television is a necessary part of life. I also don’t personally think it is inherently bad. I allow my children TV time each day. I monitor what they watch. I love shows like Super Why! and Word World that actually provide some educational value along with the entertainment. Some learning can happen here, but keep in mind that children learn through play.

Preschoolwise also points out that play reveals strengths and weaknesses of your child. You can observe your child’s moral strengths and weaknesses as you play a board game with him. Does he follow the rules? How does he handle losing? How about winning? Will he play a second time even if he looses?

I have found playing games with Brayden very interesting. I am a competitive person by nature, as is my husband. I try to keep that at bay (which is difficult) while playing with Brayden. At first I realized I took it too far. I let him win all the time. I try to find a balance between playing to win and letting him win. He needs to experience that others win sometimes, too.

Once Brayden started to get competitive, he would have a happy dance that included a song to the effect of “I win! I win!” Well, that might not hurt my feelings at all, but if he were to do that to a child his age, it likely would. It isn’t fun to have your loss rubbed in your face. This is something that is difficult to explain to a three year old, but over time, he has gotten it.

He also didn’t enjoy losing. He would be sad and tell me he didn’t want to lose. I replied that I knew. People don’t want to lose. But not everyone wins. Over time, we were able to build up to an attitude of happiness just to be playing. We congratulated each other when things were going well. When things didn’t go well for ourselves, we shrugged our shoulders and still had fun playing.

Most board games for children are completely left up to chance. Candyland is a good example. There are still things you can do in Candyland to make it hard on yourself and easy on your child. One example might be to require yourself to go back to the candycane after you have passed the peanut, but not require that of your child. Take wisdom in how you approach these games. It isn’t good to always let your child win, but you don’t always want to “smoke” your kid either.

Naturally you will want some formal learning time with your preschooler each day. “Not all education comes in the form of play” (page 27). You will need to teach sitting and focusing skills. You will need to teach your child to concentrate on the task at hand. You will need to give opportunities for your child to listen and follow instructions. Through play, you can observe your child’s strengths and weaknesses and work on the weaknesses during formal learning time.

If your child is younger, knowing the importance and value of play can give you added incentive to incorporate independent playtime into your child’s day. You will also want to allow free playtime and other structured playtime as your child grows. Playing is not a waste of time, and the ability of a child to play on his own teaches many wonderful skills. Children need to play, so be sure that each day you provide time for it. It is not time wasted, but time well spent.



Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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  1. Christie
    July 6, 2009 / 7:18 PM

    Yay! Our two year old LOVES Super Why! Great post:)

  2. Plowmanators
    July 28, 2009 / 7:41 PM

    Isn't SuperWhy great? The other day, at the beginning of the show when they are introducing themselves, Brayden said, "Brayden! With power to save the world!" lol.

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