How to Play 101

You may have noticed during your time at LEAP that facilitators interact with your little one using strategies that you may have not seen before. Sometimes these strategies seem silly, sometimes they lead to an intimate interaction, and sometimes they lead to simple side by side play.

LEAP class is proud to be primarily child-led free play. At first, the switch from the structure and routine of the day to LEAP might be a little awkward for both caregiver and child but with time it becomes second nature.

Here are some strategies you can try at LEAP or at home to encourage your child to lead the way during play!

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o   Enter their space: When your little one is engaged in play a crucial first step is to get on their level. Whether it be crouching, sitting, or on our bellies this shift in height difference indicates your presence with them in that moment. Take a minute to observe their play and mimic it, become part of their play experience without interrupting it.

o   Mirror talk: Now that you are in their little world and you’re tempted to engage in conversation, start out by reflecting and commenting on their play. A great way to understand mirror talk is thinking of it as acting like a sports announcer! Describe their play using adjectives and action words, incorporate the senses and use both familiar and new vocabulary. This shows that you value their play process and interests.

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o   Ask the right type of question: Maybe your child is using their fingers to paint at the process art station and you have no idea what they are thinking as they add on to their blob shape. Instead of asking straight out, “What is that?” - try asking about their creative process by using “I wonder..” statements. We also like to use “I think…” statements! You could say something like “I think your finger painting is beautiful. I wonder what you are making.” This phrasing removes the pressure of responding while also opening up the conversation to new ideas.


o   Be comfortable taking a back seat: Listening to, thinking about and generating a response to a question or comment that an adult makes can be cognitively distracting from play. Playing alongside and enjoying the moment are two ways to show that you value your child’s play. You can always talk about their play experience during the commute home!

o   Have fun: Appreciate the moment that you experience together! Whether your little one is squishing dirt between their fingers or crouched against the glass at the bear’s den, let their wonder wash over you and bring you together.


Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.
— Mister Rogers
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Written by Brenda Rivera