Learning, Growing, and Expressing Through Play

I’m quite sure my daughter and I were quite the sight at the park today. I believe my daughter was wearing her big brother’s sweater, dinosaur pants, and wild hair- she dressed herself. You see, two year olds with an independent spirit, grow up to be adults with an independent spirit. If fostered correctly, this spirit can lead to big things. I might have been that independent 2-year old once upon a time, as I was wearing my husband’s sweatshirt, wild hair, and probably last night’s make-up. It was a lazy Thanksgiving morning, and we were thoroughly enjoying our freedom from typical responsibilities. We took a break from the usual playground equipment. I believe the park is an amazing place to learn risks, work on gross motor skills, learn rules, such as going up the stairs and down the slide, and stimulate the vestibular system. However, sometimes more is needed for play, and I felt this today.

Today I realized we both needed to create the play on our own. Children today have playdates planned for them, so they no longer have to make their own friends. Today, we took a step away from the playground equipment and did some mindfulness activities. We processed the pine needles- looking at all the details, breaking them apart, and tearing them up. We then collected all the sticks we could find and grouped them by size and favorites. Like I said earlier, we were probably quite the sight, as we giggled and ran around in the corner of the park. However, despite the unusual play, on the way home my daughter had armfuls of sticks and other nature objects and exclaimed that “it was the most fun at the park ever!” It made me think of all the different types of play that are important for children and are sometimes neglected. All the play activities are vital because play is the natural language of children, and play is how children process their emotions.


1.     Mindfulness play- This is a slower type of play that allows for the child to be grounded in the present. Imagine searching for seashells on the beach, picking flowers, or even finding sticks! This play helps regulate mood and behaviors, reduce anxiety, and potentially help regulate activity level.

2.     Child lead play- As parents, when playing with children, we often lead the play. We might suggest what to play, how to play it, or place significant limits on the play. There are many different therapies, such as, child-centered play therapy, filial therapy, and Floortime, that have the child lead the play. This helps the child learn to express their emotions through their play and potentially strengthen the parent-child relationship.

3.     Playgrounds- As I said previously, I actually love playgrounds. In fact, I know almost every playground in the city of Houston because we try them all out! Playgrounds help a child learn social rules, healthy risks, build self-confidence and self-esteem, and self-regulate their bodies. Time at the playground is extremely healthy for a child.

4.     Board games- Board games are great for children. It teaches them how to win and lose, expected social responses, early academic skills, and social skills, such as waiting your turn. I regularly play board games with clients, and often witness stronger coping skills with young clients that have been exposed to board games and have regular family game nights.

5.     Structured sports- As an athlete in my younger years, I completely respect structured sports. It teaches skills, such as concentration, following rules, motivation, goal-setting, learning to lose gracefully, and social skills.

All forms of play are important. When interacting with your children, try to think about what types of play might be missing from their lives. Don’t forget, most learning and expression of emotions are through play for at least the first 6 years of life!

Written by Amy Rollo, M.A., LSSP, LPA, LPC-S

Amy Rollo is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and owner of Heights Family Counseling. Amy has been practicing for fifteen years. She has doctoral level training in the areas of child and adolescent counseling, marriage and family therapy, and adult counseling. Amy Rollo provides counseling and evaluation services in the Houston Heights and surrounding areas. Amy’s goal in counseling is to journey with her clients in order to foster positive changes and growth in their lives. Read more about Amy's counseling style by visiting www.heightsfamilycounseling.com and read more about her services http://heightsfamilycounseling.com/services-1/