Grandparent Discoveries Blog

Facilitating Purposeful Play

Cheryl Beaudoin

Almost all creativity involves purposeful play. —Abraham Maslow

Grandparents play with their grandchildren in so many ways.  Whether it’s building with blocks or LEGOs, creating things with clay or play dough, or making a puzzle together, these activities can provide both grandparent and grandchild an enriching experience.

Although we typically think of play as something spontaneous and light-hearted, it actually can be a deep learning time. While we are building with them, they are learning about how things fit together, strengthening their gross motor skills, and working on problem solving. When we are making jewelry with our beads, we are discovering patterns and experimenting with color. These are examples of “purposeful play.” Play can add value and make meaning for children. 

Talk is an important component of purposeful play.  It allows us a window into their thinking during play and can provide an understanding of their learning. When we try to engage in meaningful conversations we can see what they are thinking, opening a door to their thoughts and thinking process as well as helping to build both their vocabulary and critical thinking skills. 

For example, if you are building with your grandchild, ask questions that help them think about what it is they are trying to accomplish, and how, such as:

“What are you building?”
“What’s your plan for making this tower?”
“What kind of help do you need from me?” (Rather than, “Do you want me to help?”)

If they are getting frustrated, we can ask them, “What can we do to fix this or make it work better?” This allows them to think through the problem and work on solving the problem.

It can be hard not to swoop in and just help them if they get frustrated with their play, but when we guide them through talk, the process can be a wonderful teaching moment for everyone.

How do you play with your grandchildren?  What components of purposeful play would you like to learn more about? Send me your questions, thoughts, and ideas through the comment box below or by email to

Cheryl Beaudoin

Hi, I’m Cheryl: grandmother, retired Kindergarten teacher, longtime friend (and current Board member) of the Discovery Museum—and now, blogger!  As a grandparent, I try to apply what I learned as a teacher about children and their development to strengthen my relationships with my grandchildren and bring them joy. My hope for this blog is to engage with other grandparents in the Museum community to collect and share stories and ideas about the joys—and challenges—of grandparenting, and how we can connect and deepen our relationships with our grandchildren. Please join me in this wonderful journey we are on—I look forward to hearing from you! Use the comment box at the bottom of any blog post or email me at


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