Author spotlight: Developing playful interactions

Dawn Rigby
Friday, September 16, 2022

Dawn Rigby – author of ‘Making Play Work in Early Years Settings – tales from the sandpit’ explores how to be a ‘play partner’ and the importance of knowing when to intervene or to step away.

An important part of my work and something I feel very passionately about, is developing playful interactions. One way to do this is through being a play partner. This enables us to develop strong, emotional connections with children.


What are playful interactions?

A play partner is able to respond to, and follow a child's lead. Enabling the child to stay in control of the play but enjoy the company of adults. While the adults may make suggestions or bring additional resources or provocations to the play, the adult follows what the child is interested in, playing a supportive role. We, as adults, are a great resource for the children and they often really appreciate a playful adult.

Children are very astute. They instinctively know when an adult is genuinely interested in them and what they are doing. They will often choose you to be a part of their play. If you engage with them, are open, interested and playful, they will come to you. If the child initiates the interaction, then you can feel assured this is the child's decision, their choice and so something they are invested and interested in, and that playful interaction can develop.


Engaging as a play partner

To truly engage as a play partner, the adult needs to focus on the child, put that child at the centre of what is happening right there, in that moment, not focusing on outcomes. Learning and next steps will occur quite naturally and as you are part of the play you will be attuned to those steps and respond immediately when it has the most meaning to that child. That, for me, is through planning in the moment.

This way, we can be developing strong, supportive relationships. This means we observe children's reactions and be responsive in that moment. The children need to have the control to decide whether to invite you into their play or to decide they do not actually need or want adult company. Being emotionally available for those children enables strong, supportive relationships to flourish and demonstrates to them that you are a play partner, willing to engage in their play but not intrude on that play.

It is crucial to playful interactions, that you decide to move away if you can see you are not required. There will always be other children who will benefit from the attention of adults. This can feel challenging for staff as we worry if we are not constantly engaging with the children, we are not doing our job properly, but we can restrict or limit play by taking part when we are not required. We must have faith in our professional judgement and be sensitive to our children and their needs.


Sensitive interactions

To ensure playful interactions are carried out sensitively, we need to be aware that too many questions can be stressful. We need to consider if a question is actually appropriate and that all interactions start with chat. Chatting with children enables rich language to happen and the best opportunity for this is during play.

The beauty of being available as a play partner and developing playful interactions is that it is so much fun! I did not become an early years teacher to spend time stressing about outcomes and writing up lots of paperwork. I became an early years teacher to be with the children.

The best way to develop playful interactions is to be available, willing and excited to engage with the children. They deserve to be surrounded by adults who are ready to join in with their play and want to have fun


Reflection points

  • Do you ensure you make time in your day to participate in deep and engaging play interactions?
  • Can you confidently describe yourself as fulfilling the role of ‘play partner’ in your setting?

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