Scoil Náisiúnta Réalt na Mara Réalt na Mara National School

Mill Street, Dundalk, Co Louth, A91 TD3H

(042) 9327230
Principal: Mr Phil McCaul

How to Play with Children

How to Play with Children

  • Play helps to build warm relationships between children and significant adults in their lives.
  • Through play adults can help children to solve problems, test out ideas and explore their imaginations.
  • Playtime with adults encourages the development of vocabulary so that children learn to communicate their thoughts, feelings and needs.
  • It also helps them to interact socially by teaching them how to take turns, share and be sensitive to the feelings of others.
  • It is important to value play and to set aside playtime as often as possible. By following the suggestions for effective play below, adults can help  foster children's self-esteem as well as their social, emotional and cognitive development.


  • Find a quiet place with no distractions; have a range of toys and books available; position yourself at the child's level, i.e. on the floor.
  • Follow the child's lead.
  • Pace at the child's level.
  • Don't expect too much - give your child time.
  • Don't compete with the child.
  • Praise and encourage the child's ideas and creativity; don't criticise.
  • Engage in role-play and make believe play (e.g. puppets; playing house).
  • Be an attentive and appreciative audience.
  • Describe what is happening instead of asking questions.
  • Use academic coaching to promote the child's academic skills (e.g. colours, shapes, numbers, positions, names of objects, etc).
  • Extend language skills; give words for the things the child is looking at, repeat clearly the words the child uses; speak slowly and clearly; use language that is just a bit more advanced than the child's; try not to ask too many questions.
  • Be a social skills coach by prompting, describing and praising children's friendly behaviours (e.g. sharing, helping, taking turns, being polite).
  • Use emotion coaching and provide positive support for children's emotional regulation skills (e.g. being calm, waiting, solving a problem).
  • Curb your desire to give too much help; encourage children's problem solving.
  • Laugh, have fun and share your feelings of joy.

While adult play is one-on-one with a single child is immensely valuable there are also benefits to play with two or three children. Play with siblings or friends provides an ideal opportunity to coach children's social skills.

(Adapted from The Incredible Years , Carol Webster-Stratton)

Richard Ruttledge - NEPS North East