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Fathers and the World of Play

“Most fathers naturally make good playmates for children. Fathers tend to focus on play interaction more than mothers or other caregivers. Children often prefer fathers as play companions because fathers are usually more active and stimulating in their play activity,” according to Dr. Sean Brotherson, Family Science Specialist, North Dakota State University Extension, co-author of Father Times.

What are children learning when they play? More than you might expect. Music and dance, arts and crafts, outdoor play — all of these play activities help children develop the physical, mental, social and creative skills a child needs. Research supports the importance of play for children’s development, and fathers have a key role as play companions. Here are some key findings:

  • Research on children’s learning shows that play is not just the way children entertain themselves; instead, it is the primary way that kids learn about themselves, others and the world around them. Play helps to develop physical, mental, social and creative abilities in children.
  • Young children whose fathers are involved with them in play regularly tend to perform better in areas of problem solving, cognitive skills and exploration of the environment around them. • Fathers feel most connected to young children through play as they engage in interactive activities such as playing tag or ball, recreational time such as sports activities or time together at the park, and educational activities such as board games or puzzles.
  • Play with fathers is great practice for play with peers. Fathers who engage in high levels of physical play with their children, especially if their kids are having fun, tend to have children who are more popular with their peers. It is also important for fathers to have give-and-take with their children about the different play activities they do together. Dad and kids should alternate and be flexible about deciding what activity should come next.
  • What is it that children learn from playing with their dads? A lot about their own emotions and the feelings of others. Research shows that because there is a lot of excitement and emotional ups and downs during play, children become more aware of their own and others’ emotions. Fathers engaged in play with their kids can help kids recognize if someone is getting angry or upset. They can also show an example of directing your emotions or calming down, and resolving problems that might come up if play becomes too rough or wild.

It has been said that play is a child’s work. It is even more. It is a child’s world. When do we see children most happy and growing? At play. When do we see children at their most creative? At play. What do most children ask parents to do? Come and play. Play, in all of its many types and activities, is the cornerstone of a child’s learning and development. Why wait? Go out and play. 1

Happy PLAY this Father’s day and every day!


1Father Times is a set of nine newsletters developed with support from North Dakota State University Extension and the North Dakota Head Start State Collaboration Office. 2003.

More resources on Fatherhood, contact West Dakota Parent & Family Resource Center at 701-456-0007 or toll free at 1-877-264-1142.