Child-led play: why it’s good for babies and children
Child-led play means following your child’s lead in play. It means watching your child and responding to what your child says or does to keep their attention focused a little bit longer.
Following your child’s lead is good because your child learns best when they’re interested in an activity. When you follow your child’s lead in play, you can take advantage of things that interest your child to help them learn something new through play.
Also, when your child leads, they build communication skills and learn how to influence things around them.
What you need for child-led play
All you need for child-led play is whatever your child is interested in at the time. This might be a toy or something in the environment, like a bird or a fire truck. It might even be you and the funny faces and sounds you’re making together.
How to follow your child’s lead in play
- Start by noticing what your child is interested in. It could be something they’re playing with, like a ball, or something they’re doing, like jumping through puddles.
- Ask your child if you can join in.
- Go along with what your child is doing. If they roll a ball to you, you might roll it back. Stay focused on the activity. Avoid distracting your child or changing the way the activity is happening.
- Ask questions or comment on what you’re both doing. For example, ‘That was a big roll – I nearly missed it!’ Give your child time to respond.
- If your child changes to something new, let them be the leader. For example, if they stop rolling the ball and start playing with blocks, move to the blocks with them.
Adapting child-led play for babies and younger children
Even babies can lead play. You can follow your baby’s eye direction to see what they’re interested in.
For example, ‘Is that Auntie there on the sofa? What’s she doing? Is she waving at you?’ If your baby responds with gurgles or babble, keep talking as though you’re having a conversation.
Or if you see your baby looking at a toy, like a brightly coloured rattle, move it closer to your baby, and let them try to hold it or shake it.
All children learn and develop through play. Our articles on play and autistic children and play and children with disability are great starting points for adapting this activity guide for children with diverse abilities. You might also like to explore our activity guides for children with diverse abilities.