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What is the difference between Child-led vs adult-led play?

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There are significant differences between child-led and adult-led play and there is a place for both of these types of play in child development. This article will discuss the two types of play and how parents can foster a meaningful relationship with their child by involving both in to everyday interactions. 

What is adult-led play?

Adult-led play involves the adult having control over the instruction and guiding the child through a learning experience. Examples of adults who may practice adult-led play could be parents, caregivers,  teachers, babysitters, and after-school activity teachers. The adult will choose the activity and will guide the child to complete the activity through various teaching strategies. 

Benefits of adult-led play

Adult-led play can help provide structure to the activity or game by providing rules or guidelines for how the game should be played. For example, a teacher will choose to play ‘Simon Says’ in their classroom and the teacher will teach the children how to play the game and also model this by standing in front of the class. 

In classrooms, adult-led instruction allows for teachers to provide organization, help children learn to follow instructions, and provide a safe environment for learning. As no child is the same, teachers use adult-led instruction to help differentiate their classrooms as well. 

Adult-led play can offer many opportunities for learning and the ability to include all children without having others feel left out. This could look like a Mom trying to play a game with two of her children aged 2 and 4 years old where she is able to choose the activity so that both children are included and learning how to play. 

What is child-led play?

Child-led play involves play that is led by the child rather than the adult. It essentially strips back any adult motive, rule, or intention for the child’s interaction and allows the child to take full control over the play. Children will follow their interests and they are independent learners during this time. As children follow their motivation during child-led play often it is a true reflection of the child’s interests, language skills, and passions which can tell the adult much about the child. 

Benefits of child-led play

Child-led play promotes many foundational skills including perseverance, building self-esteem, confidence, and problem-solving. As the adult steps back and lets the child lead, the child is then left to explore and use their natural abilities to solve. For example, a child is at home and they lead their parent to the small play kitchen set. The child then takes out the cups and holds up the cup to the parent’s mouth to take a drink. This play continues and the parent follows the child’s lead allowing them to initiate and problem solve the situation. 

Another benefit of child-led play is its ability to foster emotional learning including providing the child with a feeling of empowerment. The child will be able to independently select their favorite activity and there are no rules enforced. The child will always stay focused on their own goals. A good example of this is on the playground when a child goes up to their teacher to ask them to play hopscotch with them. The child will be able to model to the teacher the rules and how they play with them. This may be different from how the teacher would play (ie. the child may jump from the number 2 to 3 to 5) yet the teacher still follows along promoting a sense of confidence in the child. 

How to follow your child’s lead in play

  • Notice what your child is interested in. 
  • Ask your child if you can join them in the play. 
  • Follow along with what your child is doing, providing no changes to the activity. (ie. if they pat the playdoh, you also pat the playdoh). 
  • Comment on what your child is doing. You can ask questions, yet keep this minimal. Always allow time for your child to respond (rule of thumb I use: count to 10 in your head before asking again). 
  • If your child changes the activity, you follow them to the new activity and let them be the leader. 
  • Continue to provide praise for your child as they switch to new activities. 

Top tip: You can use Moshi kids to allow your child to take the lead and choose their favorite character and the story they want to listen to. When your child is having a tough time you can select the story that is best suited to their feelings. If they need a calming moment they can listen to Calm with Yawnsy or Tame Tantrums with Mumbo.

What is the difference between Child-led vs adult-led play?
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