Creative Child

Purposeful Play: A Powerful Parenting Tool

by Rebecca Eanes

The benefits of play has been well-documented, but are you aware that play is a powerful parenting tool? We can use play to teach lessons, heal and process emotions, and connect with our children’s hearts. Why is play so effective? Because children are wired to learn this way! Let’s look at how we can use play to accomplish each of the three goals listed.

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Teaching Lessons through Play

Role playing, pretend play, and games are fantastic ways to sneak in wonderful lessons with your children. When my sons were small, I created a manners game with two shoeboxes and construction paper stars. One shoebox was labeled “good manners” and the other “bad manners.” On the stars, I wrote various scenes or phrases such as “saying thank you” and “skipping someone in line.” My kiddo would choose which box the stars went in, and he loved to slide the stars into the slots I’d cut into the shoeboxes.


I realized how much my children loved to learn through play when I used this “feed the penguin” game to teach them their alphabet letters. They were engaged and giggling while learning, and it helped them to retain the information. It was a lightbulb moment for me when I saw that I could teach my sons many lessons through play, way beyond math and phonics. I started using sock puppets and role-playing games to teach everything from sitting quietly in restaurants to petting the cats gently. It worked really well!

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Healing and Processing Emotions

Researchers have discovered the power of play in helping children who have undergone emotional trauma. A study, conducted by the University of Cincinnati College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services (CECH), studied children ranging in ages from 2 to 10 who were seriously ill. The sick children used play to transform their reality into make believe to help with emotional healing. Through play, they were making sense of what was happening to them, and this provided valuable insight for their caretakers. How they played helped researchers to understand their mental processes. The researchers also had a control group of 6 healthy children aged 6 to 8, but those children’s play lacked the heavy themes that the sick children’s play displayed, leading researchers to believe that the sick children were indeed using play to process their emotions.

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