Our kids are growing up in a world where there’s not only endless distractions, but more supervision and structure to their day than decades and centuries past. As a parent, one of the best things you can do for your littles (and yourself!) is to foster many kinds of play — solitary, with other children, and with adults. There’s so much to be learned when kids construct their own invented worlds and participate in others’ — from attention regulation to developing imagination.

But of course, it can take some imagination from us parents, too! To help share some inspiration, we’ve collected a few tips for encouraging play in children, with some pointers from our own team.

Tip 01: Be open to making messes
This can be a big one to overcome, but one that results in lasting memories — or even masterpieces. Building forts, carving pumpkins, finger-painting… the list goes on. A tried-and-true staple for keeping the messes contained? Our wipeable leather Mats.

Tip 02: Incorporate music
Whether you’re simply adding background music to an activity or forming a game centered around it (freeze dance, limbo, musical chairs), music always makes things more fun.

Tip 03: Ask questions to jog imagination
One easy way to join in on imaginative play is to prompt it. By asking questions that guide your little one into telling a story of their own, you can go along for the ride.
For example:

  • You’re a princess — what is your name, where do you live?
  • You’re driving that truck away — where is it going, who is driving it?
  • You’re stacking those pillows — what are you building, how does it work?

Tip 04: Let them be bored for a bit!
When you go easy on the daily scheduling, it opens up free time. What might start as kids’ boredom often turns into play! By leaving all the dress-up accessories, art supplies, and games within reach, they’ll have more options accessible. A couple of toys that stay out in many of our homes are the Arc Playset and Play Tent.

Tip 05: Get outside
It’s only natural to be outdoors, and nature has a way of sparking energy and imagination. If weather allows, head outside — better yet, to the front yard, where it can spur spontaneous company from neighbors. A fun toy we like to set in the yard is the Ball Pit, which can also double as a play pen. Of course, sports, hopscotch, and sidewalk chalk are always classic options, too!

Tip 06: Opt for open-ended toys
Try to limit media and gadgets that do all the entertaining automatically with lights, sounds, and movement. A week- or month-long TV cleanse for the family can do wonders! With more basic, open-ended toys, like those in our Wooden Collection or a Tunnel, active learning and imagination can take place.

Tip 07: Play with them
Simple, yes. Obvious, probably. We all get busy, and might just want to give little ones something to entertain themselves. While it’s a gift to be able to do so, it’s equally rewarding to spend the time engaged with them — and all the more memorable for you both. Try joining their imaginary world, working on motor skills with a ball, teaching them with an Educational Mat, or modeling new ways to use a toy.

Just know that free play with children isn’t intended to be another scheduled block in the day that you need to feel guilty about. Instead, strengthening that muscle among the whole family can help create an organic, enjoyable part of your day. With a little cultivation from both kids and parents, the little ones will be pretending, building and problem-solving on their own in good time.