North Dakota State University
NDSU Extension Service



FUNdamentals of Play

"Ring! Ring! Hi, this is the Pizza Place. What do you want?" asks the preschool boy in the chef's apron, intently speaking into his toy phone. "A giant pepperoni with some extra cheese and lots of pop? Any breadsticks? OK, two breadsticks. Thirty minutes or less. Bye."

Children at play can teach adults a great deal when they take the time to observe or even join in. Adults postpone playing until the work is done. For children, however, the opposite is true. Play is a child's work.


Types of play

Children play in a variety of ways. Putting together a puzzle, riding a bike, reading, playing with a busy box, drawing and writing are all activities that children might do alone. Playing alone is called solitary play. Parallel play refers to children playing in the same space in their own way. One child may be measuring water in a cup while another child at the water table is floating a boat. Cooperative play happens when children actively play together, such as building block structures or playing store or house.


Through play children can:


Paving the way for play

Listen to children as they play. Children will give you clues about what you might provide to extend their play.

Join the fun

Sometimes children have trouble getting play started. Offer what you can then bow out. Be sure to check in from time to time. Participate when invited, but make sure that play belongs to the child. A well- placed call from mission control or the pet store may keep the game going a little longer.

Extend ideas

If a child is playing fire station, perhaps a piece of hose and a pair of big boots will add interest.

Invite everyone to play all parts

A world of opportunity awaits every child. Pay extra attention not to give the impression that certain jobs, toys or colors belong to girls or boys only. Stereotyping is no way to share fun.

Encourage cooperation

Forcing children to share or apologize may backfire. Children learn to share when others model being generous. Children are compassionate when others are sensitive to their needs first.

Foster problem solving

Give children the opportunity to resolve problems themselves with words. You will need to intervene if violence breaks out. Be ready to "hear" the child's feelings or change the activity when trouble starts.

To start the process, state the problem, listen to everyone's thoughts and feelings, together generate ideas, list them all without evaluating, cross out ideas that people don't like and pick a plan from the choices that are left. Working this out on paper will extend the learning.

Offer private spaces

A tent made under a table or space behind a sofa or the inside of a big packing box are good private spaces.


Keeping play fun

Offer a variety of toys to stimulate social, emotional, physical and cognitive development.

Allow plenty of time for play. A flexible schedule that allows pretend play to expand without interruptions can be a precious gift in a busy, often highly scheduled, family life.

Offer toys that encourage children to do the playing. Watching electric trains or battery powered dolls has limited interest. Children need to be the active ingredient, not the spectators.

Create a special space for children to call their own. Toys stored on low open shelves, well marked with pictures, help children find and put away toys more easily.

Young children are not ready for competition. They need to learn cooperation first. Children under ages 7-8 generally enjoy the process of playing, while older children and adults seem to enjoy the end product.


This newsletter is published for North Dakota families with preschoolers by the NDSU Extension Service and distributed through your county extension office. See your extension agent for more parenting information and other home economics programs.


Parenting Preschoolers, Issue No. 9


NDSU Extension Service, North Dakota State University of Agriculture and Applied Science, and U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Sharon D. Anderson, Director, Fargo, North Dakota. Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. We offer our programs and facilities to all persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, age, Vietnam era veterans status, or sexual orientation; and are an equal opportunity employer.
This publication will be made available in alternative format for people with disabilities upon request (701) 231-7881.


North Dakota State University
NDSU Extension Service