Intentional Play: An Overview and Expert Tips!

What is Intentional Play?

When people ask grOH! about intentional play, the way we like to explain it may seem a little backwards...

Intentionality comes not from our kids, but from us! Basically, grown-ups set up an encouraging environment for kids to explore their interests. We sneak in the purpose and intentionality, and kids play to express themselves and have fun!

Intentional play begins with the play environment, and we have the privilege of creating this space for them to flourish. A balanced play environment is one in which children can access materials and toys that invite them to engage in different types of play. Young kids explore and develop preferences over time; we provide access to all the materials they need to properly explore the eight types of play. In a balanced play environment, kiddos might choose to build, engineer, tell stories, imagine, create art, tinker...all while incorporating gross motor and fine motor movement. Encouraging all different types of play early engages thinking and problem-solving that translate into limitless 21st Century Skills.

As kids grow, they are forced to process massive amounts of information on a daily basis. They are constantly learning and taking in stimuli; they are expected to communicate, and think critically and creatively. The skills children need to process, manage, and flourish in the 21st century world around them begin development in their early years. And, you guessed it, engaging in purposeful play is how children build a strong foundation in these skills. As their adults, we have the chance to create space and opportunity for them to process and express themselves, which sets them up for success now and for years to come.

Intentional play does not mean you are dictating your kids play, but setting them up for self-directed success to play with all the tools, or toys, they need.

How does intentional play translate as my kids get older?

Once we start to see developmental changes, about late elementary school to middle school years, that's when we see a shift in the environment to become more focused and interest-specific.

Fostering Intentional play for an older kiddo is understanding their interests and then supporting them with an environment that encourages them to successfully and deeply explore those interests. For example: a young child’s art station may have crayons, colored pencils, markers, paint, pastels, chalk, etc. to explore a variety of mediums when engaging in art. An older child may only be interested in colored pencils. Therefore, the space does not need all of the other elements when all he or she uses are the colored pencils.

How do I help my kids play intentionally TODAY?

Remember, this is a muscle that needs to be built. It may take some time but you can do it! All kids know how to play, we just have to create opportunities for it!

Tip 1: Start playing with them. Initiate play, get them engaged, and then step away for a few minutes. Come back and check in and notice what they're doing. Independent play is a foundational skill and the more you foster it, the more your kiddo will do it.

Tip 2: Create invitations to play. An invitation to play is taking 3-5 minutes to arrange some intentional materials that kids can use in a very open-ended way to create play around. Your kiddo may or may not “accept” the invitation, which is absolutely OK! It could be a small art project, animals set up, building toys out, some things out of the junk drawer, really, ANYTHING!

Tip 3: Tweens and teens … yes, they need to play! Play for tweens and teens comes down to their specific interests. Begin by having a conversation about something they may be wanting to explore, but may not have time or the opportunity. Education, school, extra-curricular activities aside. Something to engage their minds that isn’t graded or scored. This could come in the form of an art technique, building something, cooking, songwriting, or a new puzzle.

Let us know how you incorporate Intentional Play at and follow us on Instagram at @grohplayrooms