10 Tips for promoting play

Learn how play is so much more than fun with tips from our early childhood expert, Dr. Jody Sherman LaVos

By Jody Sherman LeVos, Ph.D.

LeapFrog Math Expert

As the math development expert on LeapFrog’s Learning Team, Jody works on products across all platforms to teach math and science concepts in developmentally appropriate ways using research-based techniques. Before joining LeapFrog, she was a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, a researcher and instructor, and a math textbook author. She is a contributing author to The Encyclopedia on Early Childhood. She is also the proud mother of two LeapFrog-aged boys. She earned her doctorate in developmental science (specializing in mathematical and cognitive development) at the University of Alberta, in Canada.

10 Tips for promoting play in your home

Play, which takes many forms, is a primary way in which children learn, rehearse new skills, negotiate rules, and interact with the world around them. Children can learn through play, and they often play to learn…all while they’re having fun and driving the action themselves. Children can play by themselves, alongside others, with rules or completely unstructured, with toys, while making new creations, and with technology.
Toys can play an important role in play. Sometimes toys are what encourage play in the first place, and they can also extend the time in which children engage in play activities. Toys can give children an opportunity to experiment with new skills (such as cooking!), interact with caregivers, and cooperate with friends. You can help extend play by looking for toys that are a match for your child’s age, interests, and abilities. Toys can help children role play by allowing them to pretend to be someone else, such as a parent or famous cook using props, sound effects, and play prompts.


  1. Provide a collection of clothes and masks so your child can play dress-up. These don’t need to be elaborate costumes – your old shirts, a piece of fabric for a cape, and homemade masks will do.
  2. Help construct a temporary puppet theatre by placing fabric across the bottom third of a door. Your child can stand behind the fabric and perform a puppet show an audience on the other side.
  3. Encourage your child to role play the tasks that you’re engaging with alongside you. For example, while you’re cooking, provide toy kitchen items so that your child can pretend to cook.
  4. Watch as your child uses his imagination to turn everyday items into “new” objects, such as using a banana as a phone, or a bar of soap as a boat. Talk to him about what’s he’s seeing and thinking as he plays and join in the fun.
  5. Help your child construct her own costume or uniform using paper and crafting materials so she can take on the role of a doctor, mechanic, superhero, dancer, or whatever she imagines!
  6. Expose your child to the dramatic arts, such as taking him to children’s theater, so that he can experience the wonder and delight of role playing, pretend, collaboration, and creativity.
  7. Animal pretend play is a great way to encourage younger children to explore making different sounds and exercise their fine and gross motor skills.
  8. Choose a favorite picture book and act out the story. Feel free to improvise and adapt the story as the child’s imagination takes off!
  9. Set up a pretend play area where your child can make a mess. This dedicated space helps keep things under control while giving your child the room and freedom she needs for creativity.
  10. When playing together, be patient and try not to force your child’s pretend play one way or another. Some children might take some time becoming familiar with the props and toys before they’re comfortable pretending with them.




1. Paley, 2004

2. Goldstein, 2003; Goldstein, 2011

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