Expanding your Child’s Play

So you’ve been letting your child take the lead, and drive the play.  He’s coming up with a few creative ideas but they tend to be the same ideas again and again.  What do you do if you’re getting bored?  

Sometimes we can all feel a bit stuck in play. We might feel like the play is losing steam or not going anywhere and, sometimes, it may even feel repetitive. This can be tricky and while we may be tempted to introduce a new play scenario or direct the child to try something entirely new, it may be wise to hold off and reflect.  This is a great time to observe your child closely before acting.

When children repeat the same actions, themes or ideas in their play, they are often telling us that there is a lot for them to learn within these play themes.   Even if we are feeling like the whole thing is becoming a bit redundant, the play is likely very meaningful and  comforting to him, and, developmentally, it is right at his level (Greenspan and Wieder, 1998).

The following sequence may be useful for effectively building on your child’s play:

  1. Pause:  Wait for your child to get the play going and watch what he is doing, playing or saying most.  This will help ensure that you understand your child’s idea and that you will have the same context when you join in his play.  
  2. Reflect:  What does your child seem to like or focus on the most in this play?  Why do you think he is interested in this?  Having a better understanding of his focus and potential motivation can give you nice ideas for how to build on his play.  
  3. Expand: Add one step, component or situation that is closely related to his idea or motivation.      

Imagine a child that is pretending to search for and capture monsters over and over.  When you pause and let your child take the lead, you may realize that he really likes the anticipation of searching for the monsters. Maybe your child creeps around the house and then squeals when he finds his toy  monster. Maybe the monster returns and the series of actions repeats itself. At this point, we can pause, reflect and think about how to expand. What in particular does your child seem to be enjoying and learning from in this play? How can we build on the play? Let’s start small, maybe we can add one new step, component or situation to the play. For example, maybe you place the toy monster in a new hiding spot or perhaps we need to make a ‘trap’ with blankets to capture the monster.  It is great to offer small suggestions to keep the play evolving but we also want to ensure that the child is still in the ‘driver’s seat’ and that he is able to think actively and creatively in his playtime.

For younger children, maybe your child likes to talk on a toy phone or explore with toy food.  You can change the play slightly to help your child develop early pretending skills, such as using a different object to represent the toy your child has.  For example, if your child is using the toy phone,  you can pretend to talk on a paper towel roll.   Likewise, if your child is exploring a toy flower, you could show him how we can smell the flower.

There is a lot you can do to build on your child’s ideas. These are just a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing. The possibilities are endless, but remember to let your child lead and ensure that most of the ‘work’ in the play is his idea. If you know what themes your child often plays out, it may be helpful to brainstorm a couple of extra steps to add before your child invites you to play that theme again.

Have fun!

Want more ideas on expanding play? Check out 3 ideas to expand play with cars here.


Greenspan, S.I. (2007)  Great Kids. Da Capo Press: Philadelphia: PA.

Greenspan, S.I. (1999)  Building Healthy Minds. Da Capo Press: New York: NY.

Greenspan, S.I., & Wieder, S. (1998).  The child with special needs: Encouraging intellectual and emotional growth.  Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

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