You're Never Too Old To Play!

October 30, 2018  |  Rachel

One of the hardest and saddest things is when the play seems to stop. Some of it’s the kids. Some of it’s us. We’ve spent a lot of time being very needed and reaching a point of being less so is both liberating and a bit heartbreaking. 


But I’m here to tell you that play with older ones is so vital and here’s how to do it! 


For our older children there are a number of new experiences and opportunities for them that arise every day. If we don’t give them the opportunity to rehearse these they can feel anxious or feel a sense of failure if they do something and not be willing to put themselves out there and try again. 




Role play is a great opportunity to rehearse these experiences and teach your child new skills whilst having fun playing with them again. I am a special needs teacher supporting children to access mainstream schools and with year 6 students I often spend the latter part of the term role playing scenarios that might occur at secondary school. This is something they really enjoy and those without additional needs have also benefited from the reduction in anxiety around these things and the chance to have a go. 


You absolutely don’t need lots of equipment and I have actually found the less physical objects you have the less they are distracted and the more they get into the actual role play. 


Here are a couple of suggestions but it is important to build around the new experiences for your child and the things they might be wondering about or unsure of. 




Buying food. 


This could be in a shop, restaurant, school canteen. At primary school on the whole children are presented with their dinner. There isn’t a request on them to choose between 12 options, they don’t have to think whether they have enough money or what would happen if they bought a pizza at break would they have enough for lunch? They also don’t have to ask for something, or read a menu. Therefore this kind of role play is really important to build their confidence with this. It is really useful for them to play at being both the person ordering and the person taking the order. This practises lots of skills but will also mean they really enjoy the play as they get to pretend to be an adult and you get to pretend to be a kid. You don’t have to have a till or real food but it is good to have a menu written for them to make choices from and a way of thinking about money. This could be actual money or as many schools are cashless (using a card or finger print) simply writing down and crossing off how much they have spent and how much they will have left. Depending on their maths skills they can do it or you can as long as they understand the concept that there is a limit of money. 



Being safe in new situations. 


In my experience children love to play out what might happen and you often discover something you never realised they would be worried about. We’ve done this for road safety - they get to be the ambulance that comes, or the mum who has to step in the road with a pushchair. Great opportunity for dress up too but again kids imaginations are fab - give them a sticker with a cross on and they’ll say they are the doctor. Also a lovely one to do for school trips, or going away to someone’s house. Packing a bag and going away to mummy and daddy’s bedroom for a picnic or team up with a neighbour and do a pretend trip to each other’s house. What would we need? What would be silly to take with us? Get into that silliness and try to drag your duvet with them. This will help them to remember when they are packing for that real trip and feel good about the fun you had together. 


Sharing something that is happening for them or they are feeling. 


When they were really little you discover so much when they don’t think you’re trying to discover anything. My niece is 7 and her favourite game is Teachers. For obvious reasons it’s not my favourite game, you try 24 hours of playing at doing the job you’ve done all week on the weekend! But it is a game I play a lot because it shows me so much about what she experiences herself at school. It’s also one my toddler can join in with and she even insists on the dog’s involvement. The dog frequently gets put on “the sad cloud” for barking in assembly “when all the other teddies are managing to be quiet”. My little one gets put on blue report if he writes in pen because “he hasn’t got his pen licence”. It showed me a lot about her perception of school. It was also an opportunity for her to hone skills as the whole family would do her worksheets, deliberately get them wrong and she would have to try and show how to do it. She loves it so much all she wanted for Christmas was REAL teacher worksheets like me. Again minimal resources. Line up teddies as the class. Print off free worksheets or just give them a notebook. If you have or know older kids then their old exercise books are a goldmine for this kind of play. You can also do this for the doctors or the dentist or childminders or any kind of club like scouts they go to. I guarantee you will find out a lot more about their experience of it and their feelings towards it than you would by asking them. 


Sometimes they’ll take the lead and ask you to play. Sometimes they’ll be playing and you can go and join in or watch. But sometimes you’ll need to create the invitation. That will mean a few more resources to grab their attention but more often than not just having things that “adults play with” - a notebook, a phone, money - will entice them in to play. It’s the kind of thing you’ll need to return to. You can’t learn the skills or find out the information from just one play session. It’s like any game it takes practise. But the difference with this game is you’ll be equipping them for life and better understanding the needs and worries of your child which is what parenting is all about. As a bonus, you might get into the play like me and actually end up having a lot of fun! 


I’m sharing resources and tips over on Instagram @sucker_punch_learning. Particularly in terms of additional needs but happy to help in any way I can! 


Thank you so much to Rachel for being a guest blog writer for us. If you would like to have a go at writing a blog post related to play to be published on the playHOORAY! website, please email