All child development experts (including me) will tell you that one of the best things you can do for your child is to play with your child. But those same experts (including me) often lament that parents don’t always know HOW to play with their kids.

I have a theory about this.  Adults sometimes struggle with “child’s play” because it is counter-intuitive to what’s expected of us in every other part of our lives. As adults, we’re expected to be strong, mature and in control at all times; responsible, efficient, effective, and results-oriented. Yet it is these exact qualities that make adults INEFFECTIVE as play partners to their children.  

To help you understand what I mean, here are a few rules of thumb I prescribe for parents during playtime...

FOLLOW, DON’T LEAD.  When it comes to play, your child is better at it than you are.  Know your place and follow her lead (unless safety becomes an issue).

GET SHORTER.  Whenever you can, bring yourself down to her level (both physically and emotionally!).  This is your time to see the world through her eyes.

KEEP IT POINTLESS.  True play has no agenda – no rightness or wrongness to it. Whatever happens happens.  Keeping playtime open and free is not only the best way to encourage your child's imagination, it's also the best way to help her learn naturally.

And no matter what, remember, playtime is for both of you, so relax and go for the ride!

THE OVER-UNDER JOURNEY!                                Playing collaborative games equalizes the playing field for your child while giving you a perfect, kids-eye-view of life!  Next time you have a few minutes, try taking an Over-Under Journey and you might just be amazed where the two of you end up!

1. Start by deciding where to go.  You may want to go to a real place like the kitchen or you could think of grander, imaginative places like the Dinosaur Forest or the Princess Castle!  (Wherever you decide to go, pick a physical location 10-15 feet away as your target for a game of 5-6 turns.)  Let your child decide the destination and then follow her imaginative lead.

2. Next, decide who is "Over" and who is "Under."  Again, let your child decide.  

3. Using only your bodies and your imaginations, the "Over" player must travel each step of the journey by going over the other player.  Likewise, the  "Under" player must go under the other player.

Here’s a few ideas to get you started.  Note:  These ideas are written for parents but can easily be adjusted for children as well.  But be sure to let your children make up their own over/under obstacles as much as possible.
  • Go OVER THE HILL (stand tall and let your child climb all the way up you!)
  • Go UNDER THE BRIDGE (form a bridge with your body or legs and let your child climb under)
  • Go OVER THE TICKLE TIGER (lie down on your back and have your child climb over your tummy -- tickling as she goes!)
  • GO UNDER GATE (lie on the floor and raise one leg in the air up and down.  Have your child scoot through the gate.)
  • Go OVER THE TEA POT (sit on the floor and form the shape of a tea pot.  As your child climbs over you, whistle like a tea pot!
  • Go UNDER THE PUDDLE (lie down on the floor tummy-side down.  Have your child "swim" underneath you)
  • GO OVER THE WORM (wiggle like a worm on the floor and have your child climb over you from head to toe)
  • GO UNDER THE TUNNEL.  (sit on the floor with your knees up and have your child climb through)
Have fun, and let me know how your journey went!


  1. this is an excellent post - with too many ideas for even one day. Love that!

  2. Hey - thanks for all the great ideas! I recently posted an article on about this topic:

    When Adults Play With Kids

  3. Much spontaneous teaching and learning can occur in the course of play, but I agree with you that it's best when your primary goal is to have fun and grow your relationship with your child!

    I love the OVER/UNDER activities and would like to share them with preschool teachers in the Philippines, who I'll be teaching at a retreat next weekend. They are hungry for fun activities to do with 1200 kids they work with, who live in poverty in urban Manila.

    Thanks for your ideas!
    BTW, I found this article via your tweet in Twitter.

    Laurie, from Iowa

  4. Great post. Not only are parents kids' best playmate. But they're our best personal trainers since they love moving in fun ways! Just follow them.

    I underscore this idea when it comes to signing your child up for movement classes or rec sports. Do so sparingly b/c they need time with you as much as anything. And you need time with them, especially moving time. No rush to get them kicking a soccer ball on a team. They can do that when they're older. So don't end up as a chauffeur and benchwarmer. For now, it's your family time to play and move.

  5. This is brilliant! As a children's entertainer, this is my mantra!
    Imagination is such a rich playground.
    Great post, really wonderful.

  6. As a Parent Educator, I am doing an 8 week series (2 hrs/week) starting next week on Play! This is how important it is! I agree that many times parents just don't know how to play or they so overschedule their family, that there is no time left in the day for unstructured play time TOGETHER! Love your ideas!

  7. What an excellent way to invite parents to play. I really loved how you stressed the importance to follow children's lead - so rich of beautifully and playfully made memories!

  8. Great post, and sooooo important. So often we think we are playing with our kids and we're merely interjecting every now and then to "tell" them how to do something..... this isn't play. Adults have generally had the ability to play educated out of them - play is not rewarded so we unlearn it. Yet, it is one of the most valuable things we can do - for ourselves and our kids. Through play we can be creative and this is one of the things needed in modern life - think Apple, Microsoft, Dyson etc - it is the inventors who are top of the tree. Kids are amazing at being creative - we have so much to learn from them. My other tip is to use their language so that you are not imposing your world on theirs (even if their words don't make so much sense). I've just posted on using our children's metaphors on my blog. It's definitely worth putting aside some time every day to play properly. It's so much fun ;-)

  9. Thank you for the playtime reminder! Even for those of us who understand play, it can be easy to let the "to do" list sneak in to playtime.

  10. Thanks, Jill. Agree! The neat thing about play is the "to do" list takes care of itself!

  11. Thank you very much, love your posts!!!
    Maria @MariaAlexONeill

  12. Great tips! I especially like the one about keeping it pointless - so many parents feel the need to have a specific goal in mind for any given activity, like everything is part of a curriculum. But although kids learn (and learn best) through play, not all play should have a particular learning outcome or goal. We mustn't forget to let them play for play's sake.

  13. What an excellent post. I struggle with the whole "fun mum" thing, but I reckon I could do your game. It's not messy, it does not involve moonsand, I'm IN!Thank you