Children Learn Best Through Play

Today’s highly structured lifestyle, with two working parents, tight schedules and busy school agendas, often makes family time a leisure activity of the past. However, what a child wants most – what a child needs – is family time with no goal in mind except to build positive memories and have fun.

Kids learn best when they are playing, when they are having fun and when they are interacting with those who love them.

Children learn through play. They learn about themselves and the world around them. They learn problem solving, social skills, and fine motor and gross motor skills. They learn counting, letters, matching. The games do not need to be and should not be overtly academic to be educational. Just by virtue of playing games, kids learn.

Communication, sharing, waiting, taking turns and enjoying interaction with others are all taught by pulling out a game, sitting around a table and having fun.

Choosing the best game, the correct game can be overwhelming. There are so many to select from. The store shelves are filled with choices. Remember there is no perfect game. Think about your child’s interests and skills. Select a game that you think the child will enjoy and then adapt the rules to allow your child to fully interact.

Toddlers love to move, so games that involve movement are a hit from ages 1 to 3. Game time at this age is best in short spurts. Flexibility is the key. Toddlers love to manipulate and problem solve. Snail’s Pace Race, Hi Ho Cherry-O, Hungry Hippos and Lucky Ducks are all games that allow a child to manipulate solid objects and problem solve.

The high structure helps the toddler understand the expectations. The best recommendation at this age is to keep game time short and be flexible. Adapt the rules to make sure all are successful.


Preschoolers are starting to enjoy being around other children and are starting to understand sharing. Kids at this age enjoy pretending and can be very creative.

Preschoolers like to do for themselves and need games that capture their attention and allow them to manipulate the pieces without a lot of help from mom or dad. Games you might look for include: Hisss, Big Top, Zingo, Old MacDonald Had a Farm, The Lady Bug Game and Don’t Break the Ice.

School-age children seek out new information, experiences and challenges in play. The school-age child is developing skills and can manipulate smaller pieces. The school-age child is starting to see another child’s point of view and is starting to express feelings.

Winning is important and thus this is the age to start teaching about winning and losing. Games involving strategy can capture their interest and help develop attention and problem solving. Some good options are Clay Mania, Sorry, checkers, Jenga, Operation, Kerplunk, Triominoes for Kids and Twister. Pictionary Junior, 20 Questions for Kids and Wig Out also are great options to explore.

A pre-teen is independent, wants immediate gratification, desires recognition and craves praise for achievement. The pre-teen knows how to play fair using more complex social skills. The pre-teen will start to notice when a parent is letting them win and often demand fairness. Games to explore include: Rush Hour, Yatzee, Rummikub, Qwirkle, Blokus, Mastermind, Clue, Stratego, Clay Mania and Scrabble.

This post was contributed by Shannon Anderson, LOT, Occupational Therapist at Our Children’s House at Baylor in Allen. 

2 thoughts on “Children Learn Best Through Play”

  1. Candace Peppers

    I am new to Dallas and would love to learn how I could become a volunteer with this program. I am from Nashville, TN and we had nothing like this wonderful program. Helping children in need is wonderful! I look forward to hearing back from you soon!
    Have a wonderful day,
    Candace B. Peppers

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Children Learn Best Through Play