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Playing as an Early Learning Activity

Play is the true work of a child.

Play is simultaneously easy and difficult to encourage. Busy schedules and difficulty in finding space are a few factors that can make play fall by the wayside. However, play can happen anytime, anywhere, and will help a young child grow their imagination and resilience. Unstructured play can also stump well-meaning grownups. Some may wonder – is giving a child a cardboard box or room to “just play” actually going to have a result? The short answer is: YES. These are some of the most important things you can do for a child.


  • Allow opportunities for your child to play with other kids in new places. This provides an opportunity to succeed and “fail” in playtime, which will strengthen their problem solving and creativity skills. Attend a Playdate at the Library to try this out!
  • If your child has a physical disability, including vision impairment, keep meaningful play objects in predictable, accessible and detectable locations. Contact the Library of Accessible Media for Pennsylvanians to ask additional questions about encouraging play with your child.
  • Use common objects like cardboard boxes to create different play experiences. When you turn a cardboard box into a lemonade stand, rocket ship and dinosaur within the same playtime, you are working on symbolic representation. It prepares the brain for codebreaking, which leads to being able to understand that letters stand for sounds and that words have meaning.


  • Play is so important and necessary for the healthy development of a young child that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights recognizes play as a Right of Every Child.
  • Play can help build narrative skills, which includes being able to talk about events in sequence. This is essential to reading readiness. You can use the Library’s Materials Match form to request books that encourage play and that help build narrative skills.

With these ideas in mind, what will you try out to encourage playing with your child? What questions do you have that the Library can help with? Ask us in chat, by calling 412.622.3114 or by stopping into your neighborhood Library. Playing is one of five important early learning activites. Learn about the other four by revisiting the Early Learning Activities page!

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