The Power of a Child-Driven Play Experience

Did you know that play isn't all instinctive? According to researchers, initiating play and driving the direction it takes is at least partially a learned behavior--a behavior that encourages imagination, creativity, and even critical thinking. As elementary classrooms become increasingly focused on academic achievement, setting aside time at home for child-driven play could be critical to meeting early development milestones. So what is child-driven play? And how can you ensure that your child is getting enough?

Defining Child-Driven Play

Child-driven, or self-directed, play can be defined as any playtime activity that is initiated and guided by the child rather than the adult. For most adults today, it's hard to even give credence to the assertion that play could ever not be child driven. But kids now have more access to video games and electronics than at any time before in history. In fact, according to the US National Library of Medicine, most children spend an average of between five and seven hours engaged in some kind of screen time activity. These activities are, almost without exception, passive or machine-guided. Even video games that offer kids a choice of storyline or direction do not qualify as child-driven play, as these activities are still initiated by the machine rather than by the child.

Why Is Child-Driven Play Important?

It goes almost without saying that kids learn through play. In fact, play is one of the most critical cornerstones to healthy early development--to the extent that it has even been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. But what's the difference between an adult initiating play and a child initiating play? The bottom line is that when a child initiates play, they must first decide what to play, then direct the way in which that playtime activity unfolds. This is one of the first ways in which children begin to learn how to think for themselves, and it simultaneously drives them to exercise their imagination and creativity to the fullest extent.

How Can I Facilitate Child-Driven Play?

Facilitating child-driven play is a challenge in and of itself. Because, of course, if you initiate the play yourself it is no longer a child-driven experience. Start out by creating an environment in which your child feels comfortable and has the tools he or she needs in order to initiate play without your direct input. You don't need to eliminate screen-time to achieve this, but make sure that your child does not have access to things like computers and video games all the time. Of course, it's still important that kids have some early exposure to technology. In this regard, toys like the CogniToys STEMosaur can offer the best of both worlds--giving kids complete control over how they play, but still incorporating aspects of STEM learning. Providing your child with easy access to things like crafting supplies, puzzles, and construction toys can also help to inspire their creativity, giving them the control they need to learn and thrive.

Whether your child prefers painting imaginary worlds or building a towns out of Legos, engaging in self-directed play will help them develop the fundamental skills they need to succeed not just in school, but in life. Do you have tip or trick for initiating child-driven play that you want to share with other parents? Let us know! You can leave your comment below, or email us at

1 comment

  • michael

    I’ve worked with pre-schoolers a lot. They love to explore on their own technology. As much as we feel the need to show them how it works, it’s best for them to experience it on their own.

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