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Game on: Smart ways to play as a family, at every stage

To quote a wise man. . .

“Play is the highest form of research.” 

👆 We’re game.

What’s more? Interactive play is one of the best ways for children to bond with their parents—as well as learn more about the world around them.

Ready to get busy playing and learning with your little ones?

Here is what you need to know about play by age.


How to play: Ages <1

Reading is one of the best ways to play with your baby, and it will set a pattern for a love of books that will last her lifetime.

Don’t worry if it doesn’t seem like your baby “gets” books at first—the colorful images and hearing your soothing voice will create a positive connotation that will stick with her when she’s old enough to turn the pages.

Try this: Find a comfortable spot and help her turn the pages of a tactile book. Take a moment to help her engage with each page, feeling the different textures and pointing out shapes and colors. Be sure to limit other sound distractions as much as possible to help her focus.

How to play: Ages 1-2

Forget the rules—baby and toddler play is all about helping the child to explore. Building with blocks, putting together simple puzzles, jamming out on drums or bells, and even just running around the backyard are great ways to bond and instill confidence in little ones.

Try this: Stage a nature walk on your street. Let your child jump in puddles, point out birds, and examine leaves and flowers up close. (Getting dirty is highly encouraged. Your little one will adore it—and you.)

How to play: Ages 3-4

Get creative! Young children need creative and pretend play to broaden their understanding of themselves and start to develop complex thinking skills. Keep a stocked dress-up box for costumed adventures around the house and introduce easy board games appropriate for their age. Admit it—you used to rock Pretty Pretty Princess. You’re the queen of the castle now, so show them how it’s done.

Try this: Save a large cardboard box from your most recent Amazon delivery and let your child loose with a box of crayons. Will they turn it into a rocket ship? Plan your take-off!

How to play: Ages 5 +

Choose activities that enhance conversation and creative interactive moments like gaming with your older children. Games played on the Wii U console or a hand-held Nintendo 3DS system create moments for teamwork and conversation when you teach your children to play the games you remember from childhood.

Try this: Turn rescuing the princess into a teaching moment. After playing, discuss the benefits of helping others—even when doing so may be a challenge.  Take that, Bowser.

Here are AAP screen time guidelines for children:

Under 2: Recent updates to the AAP guidelines now suggest that parents avoid screen time for kids under age 2, but also note that, “the more media engender live interactions, the more educational value they may hold (e.g., a toddler chatting by video with a parent who is traveling).”

Over 2: For older children, even “high quality” screen time should be kept to one to two hours per day.

How can I make my child’s screen time “high quality”?

In short, when it’s interactive. Screen time that comes closer to real-life interactions (or, better yet, promotes real-life interactions) is superior to passive viewing. To make screen time more interactive, engage your child as they watch or play through conversation or by incorporating physical objects that they see on screen.

How can I make gaming time more interactive?

Playing a game on a board or a screen can both present opportunities for conversation. Use the game as an opportunity to teach children about taking turns, following the rules, playing fair, and cooperation. Arizona State University researchers have found that sharing the experience of gaming can strengthen bonds and help you connect to kids on their level as they learn. Plus, you know you’ve missed Mario and the gang!

You’ve got this, mama. Let’s play!
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