The Power of Guided Play

Children play; it is what they do. More precisely its what they enjoy doing (and it’s also what adults enjoy doing).  Did you know that guided play could be the key to maximized child development? It sure can! This blog post seeks to explain the power of guided play, and how to do it.

What is “Guided Play?”

According to Heinemann, an organization specializes in providing educational services for teachers, “guided play takes place in a purposeful environment that’s been carefully planned to stimulate and support children’s curiosity  and creativity” and is supported by adult intervention when necessary.  “Guided play” differs from “Free play” in that it has a structure, is serving a larger developmental purpose, and is facilitated by an adult. Please note that guided play does not mean adult led, but rather adult facilitated. Adults are to act as a partner in play, in which their focus should be helping the child learn and question. To learn more about the difference between the two types of play, check out the Heinemann blog and the corresponding video in the article.

What does guided play look like in practice (Association for Psychological Science)?

  • Child(ren) and adult are playing together
  • The child maintains autonomy over what the play consists of, and the adult supports the child while maintaining the child’s safety.
  • Adults create the educational setting conducive to child learning
  • After the environment is set, let the child begin playing, and adults can begin guiding from that point on.
  •  To promote thinking, adults should interject questions, offer comments, provide explanations when needed, and continue to ask “why?” to promote the child’s challenging of their own thinking.
  • When a child wants to move onto a different activity, let them. Remember, it’s their play experience, we as adults are just supporting it!

Here are a few examples (provided directly from PBS) of  Guided Play?

  • If your children are playing “restaurant,” apply for a job, then encourage your new workplace to include aspects like creating menus, writing down orders and adding up totals on customers’ bills.
  • If your kids are throwing a ball, suggest that they count up how many times they can catch it without dropping it, then try to break that record.
  • If your little monkeys are climbing a tree, talk about how different trees have different shapes of leaves, fruits and seeds, yet they all produce oxygen for us to breathe. (And if they fall out of the tree, you can turn it into a memorable lesson about gravity, too!)

Shouldn’t the adults just let the kids play?

  • While some free play time is necessary and even healthy, adults should guide play as much as they can.  Psychology Today reports that guiding play can shape positive behavior, teach problem solving skills. encourage exploration, and model healthy social interactions. In addition, guided play strengthens the bond between children and the adults in their life.

Why is Guided Play Effective?

  • It relies on a child’s natural inclination toward discovery
  • It recognizes that play isn’t mindless, but requires ample thinking!
  • Provides a child with the support they need to play safely, and to try things they wouldn’t be able to do all on their own
  • It combines the environmental and psychological factors that boost learning
  • It forces children to think deeper about their thinking processes

Recommended Reading/Resources:




2 thoughts on “The Power of Guided Play

  1. ‘Guided Play’ is a concept that is not going to wash with most play specialists even if given a very loose definition like the one in today’s blog!

    The conflict is going to come from definitioning the world ‘play’ because if it ain’t intrinsically motivated and personally directed then it ain’t play. It may be ‘playful’ but having any adult ‘facilitate’ (direct) the process means that the result is teaching, not playing.


    • Hi Marc,

      Thanks for commenting. In the context of the post, “guided” simply means assisting, or forcing to think with greater depth. I agree that the Adult in the play process should not be dictating how the child plays and what they play with, but they can assist in providing additional learning opportunities. Also, the Adult is there to promote a safe environment. For example, a child may want to utilize the Monkey Bars outside on the playground, but not have the strength to do so alone safely. In this example the adult can help the child complete the task, and then follow up with questions about gravity, strength, etc. Whether that is teaching could be debated.


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