The Value of Play (page 2)

By — California Childcare Health Program
Updated on Apr 6, 2011

Tips for encouraging play

  • Allow children plenty of time and opportunities for both free and directed play. Avoid offering play as a reward.
  • Respect that children have their own unique and individual styles and approaches to learning and playing.
  • Allow children plenty of room for safe exploration and play with limited restrictions. Arrange definite play spaces both inside and outside.
  • Provide a variety of interesting and safe materials and activities ranging from simple to complex: toys, art and writing supplies, books, musical instruments, dress-up clothes, puzzles, games. Play materials do not have to be elaborate or expensive, but they need to be developmentally appropriate (interesting and challenging but not too difficult).
  • Avoid overstimulating children, particularly infants. Infants will signal when they have had enough stimulation by crying or looking away.
  • Give children clear limits through what you say, how you arrange the room and what materials you make available to them.
  • Provide space for children to play quietly and privately away from noisier activities. The area should include a rug or carpet, soft pillows, child-sized upholstered furniture, etc.
  • Rotate toys and materials regularly to keep children interested.
  • Observe children and listen quietly as they play. Notice their likes, dislikes and interests. Pay attention to toys and materials that encourage use of the imagination. Scaled-down adult objects are often good toys for children.
  • Encourage children to talk about what they are doing and how they feel. Introduce new words to expand their vocabulary. Document and take dictation of what they say.
  • Get down on the children’s level and join in their play occasionally. Respond to their play with encouragement as a way to help them take pride in their play and motivate them to play more. Never make fun of children’s play.
  • Share with parents/families what you notice about their child’s play.
  • Encourage parents to dress children in washable clothes and sturdy shoes.

Safety first

It is important to follow basic safety guidelines to reduce the chance that children will be injured during play. This includes providing children with access to safe toys, materials and environments. The following documents from the California Childcare Health Program can assist you:

  • Indoor and Outdoor Environments Safety Checklist
  • Possible Choking and Suffocation Hazards Poster
  • Safe Playground Habits Poster
  • Toy Safety Checklist


ZERO TO THREE: National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families has several documents on tips about play for families and caregivers to download or order, including The Power of Play—Learning Through Play from Birth to Three. Available online at

Playing for Keeps has compiled a recommended list of books about play, ranging from theory, suggested play activities, children’s stories about play, early childhood educators and parenting resources, etc. Available online at:

Segal, M. (1998). Your Child at Play: Birth to One Year. 2nd ed. Your Child at Play Series [also available: One to Two; Two to Three Years; Three to Five Years; Five to Eight Years.] New York: Newmarket Press.


Perry, B., Hogan, L., Marlin, S. Curiosity, Pleasure and Play: A Neurodevelopmental Perspective. Haaeyc Advocate, June 15, 2000.

Koralek, D. (2004). Spotlight on Young Children and Play. National Association for the Education of Young Children. Washington, D.C.

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