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It is time to stop watching our kids play, and really get in there and play with our kids.  As a play therapist, I feel like I see parents sitting back and watching their kids play more and more.  I support that, too, because I think that kids should learn to entertain themselves, but there is also a time to play with our kids.  Last year, at a meeting for work, we were all shocked to see the statistics that support this post:  The average parent spends LESS THAN 20 minutes a day playing with their kids.

how to play with your kids

I was shocked, until I really thought about it what it meant.  I thought about how often I get down on the floor and play with our kids or how often I dress up and play pirates with them.

Playing is not observing.  

  • It is not reading while your child plays.
  • It is not watching them dance around in a Cinderella costume.
  • It is not watching them build a tower out of legos.

Playing is playing.

  • It is reading with them.
  • It is dancing around with them.
  • It is building with them.
  • It is getting on the floors, doing an activity with them, even when we are too tired to play. 

I want to encourage you to play with your kids today- really get down on the floor and play with them.  Put everything else aside (leave your phone in the other room).    To help you get started today, here are a few suggestions that I give to the families that I work with:

1- Schedule it if you have to.   Schedule your playtime.  Set aside time, every day, that is devoted to your child.   Maybe it is 12:00 right after lunch?   Whatever works for you- just be ALL there.

2. Mix it up when you get bored of playing the same thing.   Find a new activity- make it fun for yourself!  Find toys and games that you would have loved to have played when you were little!
         …I won’t say that I bought the Disney Princess Castle  toy just because I think that it is really fun to play princesses with our daughter, after having three sons… nope- I won’t say that at all. (Or that I added play dough accessories to their stockings because I wanted to be able to make play dough spaghetti and play dough ice cream cones ) 🙂 

3. It doesn’t have to be a MAJOR EVENT.
I think that we think of playing with our kids as this big event- like we have to be outside, at this special park, playing a football game or something.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

I tell my husband all of the time when he decides that he needs to go play at the local school even though we have a perfectly good back yard for the kids to run around in.  I say that it really can’t be that way because we can’t maintain that.  We can’t take them to the park, with a football, water bottles, cleats, etc…  every time that we want to throw around the football.   It’s just not practical.  We need to make it work for us.   Sure- change it up and make it fun, but remember that playing with your kids can be done right now- this very minute- with whatever you have at your house.   They don’t care what you are doing.  They just want YOU.

Maybe you just throw on flip-flops and head out back to throw the ball around for 20 minutes?
You can even sit at the kitchen table, throw down an old tablecloth and grab some play dough.  I love play-dough playtime because it is a great time to sit and catch up with my child.  We create and make things, but we talk at the same time.

I also love working with our DIY creativity kit for the same reason.  I have as much fun as they do and it is an easy activity!


4. Listen to your kids as they play with you and talk to them.  Don’t just be “there”, but really be IN THE MOMENT.  So many times I feel like we are “there” but we aren’t “really there”.




You are welcome to download this free calendar of ideas & also sign up for my free one-on-one time course (week-long email course) by clicking on the image below.

A close up of a calendar on a white background.


Here are a few more posts that you might like:

Mommy, will you lay with me

10 life lessons I want our children to learn

Hi there!

I’m Becky, a former elementary school teacher turned certified child development therapist and blogger. I work at home with my husband and together we are raising (and partially homeschooling) our four children in the Carolinas. I love diet coke, ice cream, and spending time with my family.

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  1. How many time do you think that is good enough to play with the kids? Per day? I know that the much the better, but we have a lot of stuff to do, so… to be realistic… How many hours per day (at least)? Sorry for my English… I’m not American… Thank you!

    1. Honestly- I’d aim for twice or three times a day to start, but even one is a great start! If you get one, you are already beating the average. 😉

  2. Hello! Thanks so much for this reminder. I am guilty of doing too much observing and not enough playing with my kids lately. I love the tips you give for keeping it simple too.

    In addition to scheduling time, I sometimes encourage parents to set a timer. If you’re not used to playing with your kids, you might find yourself checking your phone or running to put some laundry in the dryer after just 3 minutes! Waiting for the timer reminds you to stay focused on your child, chores can wait. A timer also helps set a boundary for the kids who would want you to play all day long.

    Thanks for all of your helpful suggestions!


  3. I kind of disagree…I have four kids. I talk to them…lots, I teach them things (I show them and am involved), I never turn them away if they have a question or if they want to tell me something. I hug and snuggle and kiss them constantly. We do tickle fights and things like that….but I do not really play with them. We sometimes play board games as a family, but that only involves the older kids (8 and 12). The amazing thing that has happened in our family because of this, is that they are all wildly creative. They don’t expect me to entertain them. They create their own adventures and scenarios with what is available to them. They are very independent and I think it helps with their self confidence. I have a friend that always plays with her children every day, and they can’t be alone. They don’t know what to do with themselves. I think it’s good to do things with your kids, but I also think it’s equally important to let them do things on their own,

    1. Yes- I agree. I think you need to have a balance. Because I am a play therapist, I know the value of playing of kids (ex: helps them with their talking, motor skills, attention skills, etc…) but not all day. You’re right- you do have to let them just play alone or with one another to really learn how creative they are! 🙂 Our 6 year old could spend hours and hours just building, with his mini tools, in the garage or crafting in his room.

    2. I Agree I do the same with my children, Catelyn is 6 and Dillon is 8. I do read with them before bed or in the afternoon on the weekends. My mom never played with me when I was a kid but did take me on nice vacations and spent time with me. My daughter likes to color and draw sometimes she’ll ask if I can color with her which I do when I can take a break from house hold chores. Then my son Dillon likes to ride his bike and skateboard outside after his homework. Lately I have added chores to their routine at my house to teach responsibility and to help me out to! I totally want my kids to be independent.

  4. Love this post! Thanks for the reminder! I try to play with my boys outside of our homeschooling every day, but lately thanks to the busyness of the holidays I’ve found myself doing chores or checking my phone instead. 🙁

  5. Is there a place I can get that report-stating most parents only play 20minutes per day?

    1. I’m not sure but I’ll e-mail my coworkers and see if someone still has it.

  6. This is so true. It’s awesome when you get down and play with your kids. I love getting involved in my toddlers’ world. It’s so imaginative and inspiring. The interaction and giggles you have together are a truly unique bonding experience. Everyone should try it!

  7. Love the article!!! Thanks for the info!
    Is there a book or articles you recommend on the subject?

  8. What a good reminder! I have five kids (ages 4, 8, 12, 16 and 17) and it has become harder and harder to spend time just playing with them, especially one-on-one. I even have it on my daily to-do list, but unfortunately with work and homemaking and homeschooling and all that I juggle in a family of our size, it still doesn’t get done enough. I’m resolving to make it more of a priority once more. They have each other and I think that’s wonderful but I know they need me, too, and these days won’t last forever. 🙂

  9. P.S. I was going to pin this but the only image is one with a title. I almost never pin anything with words all across it, as those pins always look like ads to me and make Pinterest look like nothing but billboards. Just mentioning it as I really enjoyed the content and thought that might be helpful feedback. 🙂

  10. Your sentence: “really get down on the floor and play with them” is probably the best example that sometimes even we – adults – can feel like a child again, play on the ground, fool around and throw soft toys at each other.

  11. I have been trying to do this more but my son 8 and I struggle because he wants to play pretend(regardless what we are doing cars, sandbox etc) and he is bossy hey pretend you say this or do that and it drives me crazy. My daughter 5 is easy we can do anything but any tips on working this out ?
    Thank you