School-age play: why it’s important
Children develop a lot at 5-8 years. For children to grow and thrive in these early school years, they need plenty of time to play.
Play helps children develop in many ways.
For example, play and games with simple rules can help your child get used to formal, classroom-based learning at school. This kind of play also teaches your child about taking turns, which is important for making and keeping friends.
At this age, your child might develop new hobbies and interests through play. For example, your child might start to read more and really enjoy books and magazines about things that interest them – motorbikes, horses, bugs and more. These kinds of activities encourage your child to keep following their own interests and learn for themselves.
Children also enjoy challenge and risk in play. This might be climbing trees or going fast on bikes or scooters. When children take these types of risks, they’re developing problem-solving skills that will help them manage physical challenges and risks in the future. They're also learning about their physical and emotional limits.
By 8-9 years, playing with others might have helped your child to form some special friendships with others. School-age friendships are important for your child’s development, but your child also needs to know they’re still important to you. Playing with your child – like kicking a footy in the backyard or cooking together – can give you the chance to talk and strengthen your relationship.
Even though your child will probably enjoy the new adventure of school, they’ll still need your guidance and support to deal with any worries or concerns that come up. Playing with your child will help to keep the lines of communication open.
Let your child take the lead with play. Children learn most when they’re following their own interests through play.
Structured play and self-directed play
Your child’s day is now more structured to fit around school. Sometimes parents worry that their child isn’t doing enough structured activities after school, like sport or music lessons.
It might help to know that it’s all about balance. Your child also needs time to rest, think, plan and dream.
Self-directed, unstructured play is play that lets children decide for themselves what they want to do and how to do it. It’s valuable because it gives children time to:
- let their thoughts and imaginations roam
- explore ideas and think creatively
- choose activities that match moods – for example, physically active play for an energetic mood.
Play ideas and games for school children
It’s important for children to have plenty of different play experiences. This can include games from different cultures, activities that stimulate different senses, physical activity and so on. When children get variety, it’s good for all aspects of their learning and development – physical, social,
Your school-age child might enjoy some of these unstructured play activities:
- Outdoor play: your child can ride bikes and other wheeled toys (with trainer wheels, if needed, and a helmet), run around at the local park, or go for a walk with you and some friends.
- Art and craft: simple or natural materials can let your school-age child express their creativity. Try materials like feathers, leaves, bark, sticks, coloured papers, crayons, scraps of fabric, glue, paints, beads and so on. Your child could make a puppet, do a collage or just draw and paint.
- Dress-up games: these are great for pretend play. They let your child explore emotions and try out different roles like being a pilot or doctor. Your child just needs some old clothes and simple props like old hats or handbags.
- Sound and music play: activities like jumping and dancing to music, or making and playing simple homemade instruments, are good for expressing emotions and imagination.
It’s usually enough for your child to have 1-2 structured after-school activities. But if you’re thinking of getting your child involved in more structured play, it can be good to choose activities that you can share with your child. Your child might enjoy:
- playing outdoor games like football, soccer, netball or cricket
- doing puzzles and jigsaws or playing simple card games, board games or memory games
- doing craft kits
- going with you to cultural events like festivals or community events like the local markets.
If your child has disability, autism or other additional needs, it’s good to think about the supports they might need to get the most out of play. For example, if your child has difficulty understanding written or verbal instructions, you might use pictures to show them the steps in a game or activity.
School-age play and screen time
Screen time and digital technology is likely to be part of your child’s play experience. That’s fine – it’s all about helping your child achieve a healthy approach to screen time. This means balancing digital technology use with other activities that are good for development, like outdoor play, pretend play, reading and social play.
It’s also good to know that digital technology can spark your child’s play and imagination. And when your child does use digital technology for play, here are a few things you can do to help your child get the most out of it: