School is a great new adventure for most children, and play is one of the keys to working out how to get along with others and fit in. It’s also central to your child’s overall development and wellbeing. Here are play ideas and games for kids in the early school years.

What to expect: school-age play and games

Your child will mature and develop a lot at 6-9 years. You can help this process just by playing with your child.

For example, play and games with simple rules can help your child get used to the more formal learning structures that she’s experiencing 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 him – motorbikes, horses, bugs and more. These kinds of activities encourage your child to keep following his own interests and learn for himself.

By nine years, your child might have formed special friendships with one or two other children, probably of the same gender. These friends might be very important to your school-age child, but your child needs to know she’s still important to you too. Playing with your child – like kicking a footy in the backyard or cooking together – can help to keep you close and strengthen your relationship.

Even though your child will probably enjoy the new adventure of school, he’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.

When it comes to play and your school-age child, keep the focus on having a good time, rather than on learning. Let your child take the lead with play. Learning follows naturally when play is fun.

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.

In fact, self-directed, unstructured play – where children decide for themselves what they want to do and how to do it – is really valuable. That’s because it gives children time to:

  • let their thoughts and imaginations roam
  • explore ideas and think creatively
  • choose activities that match moods – for example, if your child is feeling full of energy, she might want and need to be physically active.

Play ideas and games for kids

Your school-age child might enjoy some of these unstructured play activities:

  • Outdoor play: your child can ride bikes (with trainer wheels, if needed, and a helmet) and other wheeled toys, run around at the local park, or go for a walk with you and some friends.
  • Art and craft: some simple materials – like coloured papers, crayons, scraps of fabric, glue, paints, beads or string – can let your school-age child express his creativity. He might choose to thread beads and string, make a puppet with a paper bag, or create a print with paint, sponges or toothbrushes.
  • Dress-up games and pretend play: these let your child explore and express emotions and try out different roles like being a pilot or doctor. Some old clothes and simple props like old hats or handbags are all children need to get started.
  • Musical play: activities like jumping and dancing to music, or making and playing simple homemade instruments, are good for expressing emotions and imagination.

One or two structured after-school activities are usually enough to keep your child busy. But if you’re thinking of getting your child involved in some more structured play, activities where you can get involved can be good. Your child might enjoy:

  • playing outdoor games like football, soccer, netball or backyard cricket
  • doing puzzles and jigsaws or playing simple card games and board games
  • doing craft kits.

Screen time
At this age, children can enjoy some screen time. It’s OK to let your child play a video game and app or watch a favourite TV show or video. If you can get involved in your child’s screen time, that’s even better.

It’s important to balance screen time with other activities that are essential for your child’s development. These include physically active play, creative play like solving puzzles and drawing, and conversation with family and friends.

Too much time in front of screens like tablets, phones, computers and televisions can lead to poorer language, social and physical development, and sleep problems.

How do you choose the right toys for your child? Children don’t need a lot of toys, and toys don’t need to be fancy or flashy. School-age children often like toys that encourage them to solve problems and use their imaginations. Puzzles or games that get your child playing with others are also good choices.

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Last updated or reviewed
19-03-2018

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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