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Tips & Toys to Support Group Play Experiences

Catching a glimpse of children happily engaged in pretend play is like witnessing pure magic. Ever wonder how closely you should monitor kindness and safety during group play experiences? Do you find yourself hovering or unintentionally interrupting play? Though parents and caregivers should certainly check in from time to time, it's important for children to have enough physical space to connect, create, and resolve conflicts on their own. 

Here are a few ways we can support group play without getting in the way:

Make a Play Plan

If the children are having a hard time agreeing on specific pretend play roles or scenarios, sit with them for a brief planning session. Begin by acknowledging that the children have different ideas about what or how to play. "Max was trying to tell us who he wants to be in the family. Let's listen to his ideas without interrupting him. Then it will be your turn to talk." Once you've confirmed that everyone has a clear understanding of their roles and the scenario, take a step back and observe for a bit.

Let Them Problem Solve

Give the group a few minutes to sort through any challenges that arise before stepping in to help. It can feel uncomfortable to hear them struggle, but it's so good for them to try to figure this stuff out on their own! If you feel like the group truly needs some adult support, encourage the children to speak directly to one another, rather than speaking for them. “It sounds like Sarah wants to cook this pretend pizza on her own. Sarah, you can tell Owen, ‘You can have a turn with this oven when I’m finished.’” After stepping in, reflect on the problem solving process by asking yourself, “As a parent, could I have said or done less?” “Could they have said or done more?”  

Take Some Time for Yourself

Make yourself busy in a nearby room and check in periodically. No need to interrupt or ask what they're up to! Simply peeking or listening in from the hallway (or a separate area of your outdoor space) will give you a sense of their play. Take this time for yourself- for either work or play of your own. Whether you answer a few emails, prepare snacks for the playdate, or spend a few minutes doing something you love, this is an opportunity for your children to see you meeting your own needs.

Here are a few of our favorite open-ended toys for group play experiences: 

Play Silks

Play silks are the ultimate open-ended toy that foster creativity, movement, and role-playing. Children can use these play silks as a magical river, the walls of a fort, or capes for dress up play. All you need is a little imagination + these eco-friendly play silks… the possibilities are endless!

Way to Play Road Sets

These Road Sets let imagination pave the way to adventure. The segments can be used on almost any surface, indoors or outdoors, and can be connected to form circuits and roads. Way to Play road segments are made of a durable, hygienic rubber compound that is 100% child safe. 

Rainbow Brick and Cube Blocks

This colorful selection of wooden rainbow bricks and cubes evokes endless curiosity and visual stimulation for all ages. Children can sort by color, stack cubes, lean bricks,or simply build the rainbow structure of their dreams.

Everyday Play Deck

The Everyday Play Deck offers more than 125 Invitations to Play with repurposed and household materials. Each deck celebrates the sustainability, imagination, and the joy of childhood. The ideas shared are meant for every child, of all ages and abilities. There’s no need to buy anything special or be super crafty; the deck is designed to inspire.  

The Dough Project

Five Ingredients: Infinite Possibility. The Dough Project creates opportunities for open-ended, sensory-based play through a line of all-natural, plant-based dough for playing. Each batch is handmade in New York City. Simply choose your colors and get playing!

Looking for more ways to support your child during playdates and social gatherings? Whether your child is navigating group play experiences for the first time or your family is preparing for a summer of socializing, you’ll find lots of practical tips in our webinar, Positive Language Strategies for Social Settings.


About the Author
Lauren Vien taught in private Manhattan preschools for over a decade before joining the Rose & Rex team as Education Director. With a masters in Early Childhood Education and Special Education from NYU, Lauren is deeply passionate about positive language and developmental play. She lives on the Upper West Side with her husband and two young children, Henry and Violet. Family pastimes include building with couch cushions, preparing plant-based meals, and scooting to neighborhood playgrounds.
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