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Child-Directed Play: Why is It Important?

What is Child-Directed Play (CDP)?

Child-Directed Play is one-on-one play between a child and caregiver in which the child is in

control. They are allowed to lead and determine the rules or direction of their play.

Why should I Incorporate CDP?

The short answer is that skills learned in play will translate to conversation! It is important to

model good communication skills through play.

Here are a few ways that CDP aids in development:

  1. Encourages Problem Solving: While playing, the child will eventually be met with a question or issue that interferes with their play. Ex: "How can we build an entire town when we only have enough Legos for two houses?" The child must decide the direction in which they want to go.

  2. Requires Symbol Representation: The child’s limited toys meet their unlimited imagination. They must use objects that were meant for one purpose and be able to manipulate their perceptions to fit their needs. Ex: “The couch is a car, and the pillow is a steering wheel. Let’s drive to outer space!”

  3. Provides Opportunities for Decision Making: There are so many decisions a child can make when they are in charge of the narrative. When a caregiver leads the decisions, the child cannot exercise their imagination and ability to choose among options.

  4. Encourages Turn Taking and Joint Attention: Taking turns during play models turn taking in conversation. Allowing thoughts and opinions to be shared by both child and caregiver during this time will increase conversational development.

  5. Aids in Language and Vocabulary Development: Research shows that children best learn vocabulary through the caregiver inviting the child to talk and then providing feedback on what was shared. Expansion is a great way to start developing vocabulary. Expansion: the child makes a statement, the caregiver repeats the statement, but adds a component Ex: child: "Car go." parent: "Yes! That blue car goes fast."


  • Listen to your child and follow their lead! If they aren’t including you in their activity, join in by imitating their play.

  • Narrate. Describing your child’s play sends the message that their actions are meaningful to you.

  • Ask open-ended questions that will exercise your child’s ability to utilize decision making and symbol representation. Ex: “Where is this car taking us?” “What will this magic wand turn me into?”

  • Make eye contact while your child is speaking. Eye contact is important during conversation, and they will learn this during play

  • Expand! Every so often when your child makes a statement, build their vocabulary by adding a descriptor or use the correct verb tense if theirs was incorrect.


  • Give commands or try to control their play.

  • Quiz your child or ask closed ended questions. They should not feel any pressure to perform or answer questions correctly.

  • Sit back and ignore. Caregivers are required to participate during CDP, just like good conversation requires both parties giving their full attention!

The most important aspect of Child-Directed Play is to have fun! This is a great way to build

your relationship with your child while encouraging development!

Click below to download a checklist for evaluating your play interactions with your child.

Checklist for Parents Play
Download PDF • 63KB

Click below to download a checklist for evaluation your child's play skills.

Evaluating Child's Play
Download PDF • 65KB


Word Play: Scaffolding Language Development Through Child-Directed Play (PDF)

Download PDF • 890KB

Where Do the Bears Go? (PDF Download)

Helpful Links:



Gracie Lee is a rising Junior at the University of Alabama studying Communicative Disorders with a minor in Business. She plans to become a Speech-Language Pathologist and specialize in aural rehabilitation. In her spare time, Gracie likes to read, bake, and go to concerts with her friends.

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