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Playing with your school-aged child

Part 3 of 3: Exploring the role of play in child development



Welcome to our third and final installment of exploring the role of play in children’s development: your school-aged child. This is the really fun, rule-bending, all-bets-are-off part! Because while playing with babies, toddlers, and young children are excellent brain-stretchers and imagination builders for them, playing with school-aged children will often be intellectually challenging for you.

When you’re planning your play with school-aged children, use “Calvinball” as a guide – the made-up game in the long-running comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes.” Calvinball’s only rule was that you could never have the same rule twice. They used a variety of unrelated items in bizarre ways: wickets, volleyballs, flags, trees, buckets, masks and mallets.

This free-for-all spirit is just the thing to make playing a rich and rewarding experience for your explorers as well as yourself.

Play Has No Age Limit

Your school-aged children may say that they are too old to play, but don’t believe them. This is when play can be deeply involved and involving, a cornucopia of imagination that reaps cognitive rewards in ways you can’t anticipate.

5 Tips for Playing With Your School-Aged Child

What are some ways you can make sure your school-aged child is getting quality playtime with you?

1. A Ball, A Goal, and You!

Take your inspiration from “Calvinball” and make up a game with your child, who will likely have many ideas about rules to get a ball in a goal. The sillier the rules the better – if you forget to touch your nose when you run around the couch, you have to sing “I’m a Little Teapot”; to earn five points, use the ball to represent something else (a cell phone, a puppy, an octopus).

2. Board Games & More.

Use the power of game-creators to lead you and your child to interesting and engaging play. Has it been a long time since you played “Monopoly”? “Uno”? Throw in some newer games (“Balderdash” and “Scattergories”) and see what your family likes best.

3. Take a trip to Lacipor.

One of the benefits of playing with school-aged children is that you don’t always need to move or have objects to play a game: your imaginations are enough. Personally, one of my favorite games to play as a school-aged child was creating a made-up land called “Lacipor” (“tropical” spelled backwards and without the “t”) and spinning tales with my parents and teachers about who lived there, what the Laciporians did and how they handled the magical flying coconut-monsters who terrorized the other side of the island. (Turns out, I dreamed the world of “Moana” 35 years before it came to fruition in the Disney movie.) Help your child create a similar made-up land as an ongoing game.

4. Enlist them as baby/toddler

“Play Engineers”. If you have smaller children or babies, ask your school-aged child to lead the play with them. Teach them some of the easy games outlined in the earlier articles in this series, and let them know how important they are as “play engineers” in helping the little ones.

5. Let them take charge.

Finally, another positive feature of playing with your school-aged child is that you don’t always have to lead the activities. Make a regular habit of asking your kid to be the “play planner” and decide what to do. This helps children develop what cognitive scientists call “executive functions” of the brain, which is a higher form of thinking and logic.

Go Forth and Play!

Now that you have the whys as well as the hows to play with your baby, toddler, young child, and school-aged child, it’s time to put all of that knowledge in action. Go forth and play!

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