Sign up here for free!

Welcome to mixxt!

'What is Play?' from a parent's perspective (Mother of a 3 year old!)

Parents 4 Play Campaign Blog

'What is Play?' from a parent's perspective (Mother of a 3 year old!)

What is play?

By Sarah Callan, Mother of a three year old*

*Please note this blog is from my own personal experience as a parent based on what I am learning, I am not a trained playworker.


When I was first introduced to play by my husband, who was a playworker at the time, I discovered that there was a whole world of play enthusiasts, play theorists and playworkers. I had no idea they existed. I understood by watching my husband work at an adventure playground that people were working hard to provide places for children to play, but I didn’t really give my full attention to its importance at the time. Not until recently, through my current job and since having my daughter, who is now approaching three, did it really start to sink in what we mean when we talk about children’s play, a child’s right to play and why we should care about providing the best play opportunities for our children that we can.

The starting point, and where my journey of really understanding play began was learning Playwork Principle number one during a session provided by the Children’s Scrapstore Play team (see also their first P4P campaign statement for stage one of the campaign message):

‘All children and young people need to play. The impulse to play is innate. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and well being of individuals and communities.’

‘All children need to play…’ As an adult, I need to play. Play helps me to relax, de-stress, to have fun, to find distance from my work, to explore new thing and places. If I need to play, of course a child needs to play!

‘The impulse to play is innate.’ I see in my daughter her need to play, well everything she does is play, even when she doesn’t want to do something she turns it into a game like hiding her shoes or throwing things down the stairs that she doesn’t want to wear in the hope I will smile and play along. She can turn eating her cereal into a game by drawing with her spoon and the drops of milk that fall onto the table when I’m not looking. Or when she’s trying to stop herself from falling asleep she starts to jabber away with herself and draw things in the air with her hands. Walking to the park takes such a long time as she talks to bugs, touches plants and jumps over cracks in the pavement.

‘Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity…’ Play is a child’s building blocks for life. My daughter learns so much through play. When she explores the world around her by touching and smelling things she learns about their physical makeup. As she stacks things on top of other things she learns about balance, weight, height, shape. When she tries to join in with another child’s game she is learning about socialising and how to interact with another person. When she creates play situations to push my buttons she learns about her boundaries – sometimes my buttons get pushed a bit quicker than other times, but I’m only human.    

‘Play is fundamental to the healthy development and wellbeing of individuals and communities.’ My daughter is content when she is playing, whatever that play might be. If she is playing, sometimes helping to do the laundry or making pizzas with her Dad is great play for her, she is just as happy as running or dancing. If she is being dragged along while I have to do errands or domestic things that are boring for her, she is less receptive or happy. We can’t remove those situations from life because we have things we have to do in order to live within our societies, but I now understand how much play is a part of her life and by understanding play for a child I can make those situations more interesting for my daughter and in turn less painful for myself.

This leads me into beginning to understand the characteristics of play and my role as an adult in my daughter’s play. The role of the adult was covered during the play workshop by the Children’s Scrapstore Play team I attended and was very important. Playwork Principle two states (see also P4P campaign statement for stage one):

Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons.

I’m beginning to understand that true play for my daughter is when she is directing it, when she chooses the objects, space, pace.  I can setup an activity that my daughter might like to engage with, but the true play begins when she starts to direct the path.

If I setup her easel with paper and paints to do a painting then I have created an activity for her which, prior to learning about play, I would’ve said I’d created ‘play’ for her with the expectation for her to paint a picture, and I probably would’ve got frustrated if she didn’t do what I had intended her to do. Well I was on the right path. What I’d done was create the opportunity for play to occur.

True play does occur when my daughter starts to direct the play with her own motivation; she starts to mix one colour paint with another colour paint and ignores the paper altogether or she turns the paintbrush the wrong way round and paints with the handle not the brush, or takes one look at the easel and walks past it to pick up a cuddly toy that she starts to put bed on the sofa using the blankets and cushions. What I realised was that the play begins when my daughter controls the intent and content and it doesn’t have to have a defined ending. I created the ‘opportunity’ for play. I signified that my daughter could play by setting up the easel. For it to be a good play opportunity I need to let my daughter choose what she does with that signal for play. Finding and creating opportunities indoors or outdoors for play is my role in, and if she asks me join in, then I do, as long she is directing me then she is playing.

However, we all have a threshold for what we find acceptable or are prepared to do and over the course of this year-long campaign, with the guidance of the Children’s Scrapstore Play team, we will discover many things about children’s play that can help us as parents to support it, to understand risk-benefits, to build positive relationships with our children and to realise the importance of play in our lives.

The Children’s Scrapstore Play team state (as mentioned in their campaign statement for the first stage of play knowledge ‘What is Play?) that the best description that they have heard from a child was that ‘play is what I do when all the adults stop telling me what to do’.

How often do you catch yourself directing your child? I’m not perfect. I know I still do it.

Here are the links again to further reading about ‘What is Play?’ that were suggested by the Children’s Scrapstore Play team in their campaign statement:








No comments yet

Sign in here

Not a member of this network?

Alternative logins

You can use an account of a third party.

About this blog

Here you can read about our campaign objectives, our partners, experiences from parents and play information and knowledge. During the Parents 4 Play campaign, Children's Scrapstore play experts will be sharing 7 stages of play knowledge that can help us parents / carers / guardians to improve play opportunities for our children. Blogs will be written by parents based around these 7 key stages of understanding childrens' play.

Blog posts are moderated.

About the author

Sarah Callan
Sarah Callan
  • Member since: 01/05/2013
  • Posts written: 6
  • Received comments: 0
  • Comments written: 0
  • Latest post: 14/08/2013

Recent blog posts

Network details

  • Search for:

  • Network name

    Parents 4 Play
    Helping Kids to Grow

  • Your host is

    Sarah Callan

  • Created on


  • Members


  • Language