During these industrious
years, play is very important to children. They need unstructured
time for exciting, challenging activities— sports, games, hobbies,
toys, and pretending. Play can be anything a child does that’s
interesting and enjoyable.
Six- to nine-year-olds spend time riding bikes and scooters, playing
with action figures or dolls, sledding, skating, playing ball,
making crafts, using the computer, playing video games or board
games, and getting together in groups. They incorporate their
friends’ thoughts and ideas into play and are much more cooperative
than they once were. Because kids this age are less egocentric, they
have an easier time getting along and sharing. However, they still
need reminders about treating each other fairly and including others
in their play.
Young elementary-aged children enjoy exploring and becoming more
independent. They may discover new paths or secret places near home,
or ride their bikes to friends’ homes. They enjoy describing what
they’ve seen and may exaggerate their adventures. They also like
spending time at playgrounds with large, imaginative pieces of
equipment, and going to children’s museums with hands-on exhibits.
Many kids continue to play with their old toys, but in new ways.
Games are more elaborate and often planned in advance. Children may
expand on favorite themes like house, war, good-guy/bad-guy, school.
They also make up spontaneous games.
They often play out real experiences or feelings. In pretend
“school,” a child can be the teacher and fantasize about having
control: “Now class, you didn’t turn in your work, so no recess
today!” When they play house, they take roles that make them feel
comfortable. One might choose to be a decision-making parent while
another wants to be a baby who cries and needs nurturing. War games
let children feel temporarily strong and powerful. Some parents
object to imaginary violence. One parent was upset to hear her
eight-year-old tell a friend, “Let’s play that terrorists are
attacking.” Pretend fighting games are a normal part of play. If
parents are watchful, such games won’t get out of control.
Many kids get involved in big, dramatic projects—building a fort or
a treehouse, designing a haunted house or a house out of blankets,
putting on a puppet show, or creating a garden. They thrive on these
activities and proudly show off the results.
If your child has an interest in such projects, offer him support.
If, for example, he wants to build, help him find materials. He’ll
make good use of large boxes, scraps of wood, tires, rope, sheets,
and blankets. Once he’s carried out a large project on his own,
he’ll feel successful and competent. -
In one neighborhood, kids wanted to put on a play. Parents provided
dress-up clothes and paper and paints, and the children spent a week
preparing and rehearsing. In another neighborhood, several children
used scraps of wood to build a clubhouse. The project lasted much of
the summer and parents were involved only as supervisors making sure
the building was safe. When the kids finished their project, they
not only had a clubhouse, but a strong sense of satisfaction and