Constructive Play: Definition, Activities, & Examples

What Is Constructive Play, And How Do You Encourage It?

January 22, 2021 Updated May 17, 2021

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Watching your little one build a magical world from a set of blocks or draw their favorite animals on the sidewalk with chalk is such a heart-warming experience — but it does more than just give you the feels. Building, stacking, constructing, and drawing or doodling is known as constructive play. It’s a wonderful learning opportunity for your child to channel their energy and discover what it means to start and finish a project. At this point, you’re probably wondering how you can encourage your kid to engage in this beneficial type of play, right?

Constructive play activities seem so simple, yet are imperative to your child’s development. So, let your kid play in the sand! Give ’em a bucket of blocks to stack! And keep reading, because we’re going to fill you in on everything else you need to know about the pros of constructive play.

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What is constructive play?

The constructive play definition is pretty simple. Typically thoughtful and goal-oriented, it’s an organized form of play in which children use materials to create something. As a child grows older, the complexity of their constructive play increases. For example, your toddler will focus on building blocks and painting pictures of his family while your 10-year-old might get lost in activities that include learning a new language or improving math skills. No matter what activity your child is doing while in the midst of constructive play, they’re learning about the attributes of different materials, experimenting with thought processes, and engaging their curiosity and imagination.

What are the benefits of constructive play?

There are many benefits to constructive play (besides unleashing your little one’s inner genius). They may include:

  • Improving problem-solving skills
  • Helping develop imagination and creativity
  • Allowing them to recognize cause and effect, gravity, and balance in action
  • Sparking their creativity by following through an idea and having it come to life through their own creation
  • Helping them to recognize and understand symmetry, sizes, shapes, and other aspects of the objects
  • Igniting their curiosity by playing with different materials and understanding how they work separately and together
  • Improving their communication and language skills by understanding instructions and learning new vocabulary
  • Enhancing their social skills as they explore their world and ask questions
  • Helping them to play with other children and learn how to work well together for a common goal
  • Improving their self-esteem and confidence as they work towards and ultimately finish a goal and/or project
  • Helping them to create a plan and learn how to implement it

How can you encourage constructive play?

Now that you know why encouraging your kid to take part in constructive play is so important, here’s how to help them engage in an activity or two.

  • Get the right stuff. Make sure you have on-hand objects, resources, and dynamic toys that can be used in constructive play. Examples include building blocks; paints and other coloring sets; scissors, paste, and paper; LEGOs; sticks and stone; and a sandbox. Kids may be a little young for a model building set, but there are simpler kid friendly ones with big plastic pieces that are easier for children.
  • Create an open-ended space of creativity. LEGOs are cool, but push your child’s constructive play skills and give them unconventional pieces like fabric, wool, bottom tops, ribbons, wood, pipe cleaners, fuzzy balls, marbles, and more. It may look like a bunch of junk from the outside, but you’ll be amazed at what your child creates and the world they build with these items.
  • Play with your kid. Monkey see, monkey do — it’s the easiest trick in the book. If you want your kid to constructively play more, then play with them! Start by building blocks yourself or starting a creative painting project. That alone will spark your kid’s interest to do it too. Continue to engage with them while supporting and encouraging them.
  • Allow your child to explore. Don’t get too helicopter parent on them. Even if you had a “plan” for their constructive play, allow them to explore and experiment with the activities that spark their interests and curiosity.
  • Let your kid figure it out. If your child is fixated on a problem that you can easily fix, don’t. Let them find their path. That’s the beauty of constructive play — your child gets to build their skills and knowledge by problem-solving on their own.
  • Invite their friends over for a constructive play date. Kids love playing with their friends! By engaging in a constructive play activity together, they’ll learn new social and developmental skills such as problem-solving and communication.
  • Try it anywhere and everywhere. Constructive play doesn’t have to be contained within your house. It can be at the beach or out on a walk or hike, and, of course, within your backyard. The whole point is to explore and spark their curiosity about how things work, which can range from playdough being out in the sun for the day to balancing sticks and stones outside to constructing sandcastles at the beach.

What are some constructive play examples?

If you’re stuck on how to introduce this type of play to your child, here are a few examples to get you started:

  • Building blanket forts
  • Stacking blocks
  • Creating LEGO scenes and structures
  • Making sandcastles and playing in the sand
  • Drawing and painting pictures
  • Creating bracelets and necklaces
  • Having fun with playdough and creating all sorts of things with it, including play food, people, and animals
  • Writing a story
  • Using a tie-dye kit
  • Playing with an instrument
  • Playing simple board games
  • Counting blocks and shapes
  • Starting and completing a puzzle
  • Putting together a toy train track
  • Creating sculptures or art with recycled materials
  • Playing with clay
  • Woodworking
  • Making a tunnel from recycled boxes
  • Creating an art project from natural materials gathered from a nature walk
  • Creating an obstacle course

    As you can see, playtime is more than just play. When your child engages in constructive play, their whole world opens up.

    What age is constructive play?

    Three to eight-year-olds are usually in the heart of their constructive play years. At this age, building structures with construction sets is very appealing to them and how most kids choose to spend their playtime.

    How can constructive play promote fine motor skills?

    When children play with playdough and build structures with their hands, not only are they developing mentally, but physically too. The muscles in their fingers and hands grow stronger as they press and squeeze clay. It’s one of the few activities kids can get lost in for a very long time. Working their hands into small spaces and using tools to manipulate or build structures is helpful. It may seem small, but this is where a child’s hand and muscle strength start.