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Children and Father Playing on Seesaw

Summer Day Play

I recently presented a webinar on the importance of play for an audience of parents and early childhood providers. We had a good time reminiscing about the toys, games, and experiences we enjoyed as children engaged in play. During the summer months, many of us played outside, built tree forts, swam with friends, or sprayed each other with a water hose or Super Soaker. We rode bikes, climbed trees, played hopscotch, Red Rover, and TV tag. We inevitably argued with friends, siblings, or cousins about the rules of the game, whose turn it was, or what and where to play. What many of us didn’t realize is, we were learning!

Play is natural for children. Children learn social rules, emotional regulation, and problem-solving when they are playing together. When children take charge of their own play with others, play researcher Peter Gray calls it “free play.” Free play is intrinsically motivating. Children do it because it is fun and rewarding in and of itself. Think about the last time you let loose and played, just for fun. It feels good.

As these long days of summer approach, remember there are benefits in free play. We, as parents and providers, can set the stage for free play by providing safe places for our children to play and then stepping back. When children play together with little to no direction or instruction from adults, they gain a sense of independence and efficacy. Of course, we are available for intervention in the case of safety concerns, but if we can resist the temptation to take over, children do learn to structure their own group, and grow in their capacity as leaders, planners, and conflict negotiators.

I do encourage parents to spend time in play with their own children this summer. Children love to play with parents and build positive connections, however, they also learn from engaging with peers. That’s great news for us. We don’t need to plan every moment with entertaining or teaching. Now, go play!

To learn more about the benefits of play, visit and listen to CHKD Take Ten! The Power of Play webinar.

About Michele Tryon, CCLS

About Michele  Tryon, CCLS Michele Tryon, CHKD community outreach coordinator and parent educator has worked with children and families for 30 years, providing services in the hospital, home, school and community setting. Michele is a Certified Child Life Specialist, a Certified Positive Discipline™ parent educator, a nationally recognized trainer/consultant for Nurturing Parenting Programs™ and co-author of The Nurturing Program for Parents and Their Children with Special Needs and Health Challenges©.