Developmentally Healthy Play Diet: Age 6-9

Starting at around the age of 6, children begin the process of choosing the type of play they are most interested in, rather than having it dictated to them by their parents. They are likely to have an opinion as to whether they would prefer playing baseball rather than soccer, or if they like games with clearly-set rules as opposed to more open-ended creative and artistic types of play. Parents may even discover that they are no longer their child’s favorite playmates.

A healthy play diet for 6- to 9-year-olds involves lots of active play, including things such as bike riding, playing tag, doing organized sports, swimming, and just being outdoors. It encompasses time to engage in fantasy play and activities such as building with Legos, constructing a fort, or designing things such as friendship bracelets. A healthy play diet also incorporates a great deal of creative and unstructured play. Playing with dolls or action figures and the newest card game, such as Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Magic the Gathering, is likely to encourage imagination and storytelling. Games and play become more social in nature, too, often involving sports-related activities or organizations such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, or 4H Club.

Some of the concerns voiced by parents regarding their children’s intense desire to play video games rather than engage in other activities become noticeable between the ages of 6 and 9. This is unsurprising, given that roughly half of children in this age range are observed playing video games at least an hour a day. However, parents are encouraged to become involved in their children’s engagement with digital media rather than to restrict them from it because there are so many potential opportunities for learning academic and executive functioning skills. Six- to 9-year-olds can learn a number of valuable lessons while playing video games with their friends, siblings, or parents. They learn how to observe and encourage, use planning and time-management skills, and acquire knowledge, often at an accelerated rate, due to their interest in and motivation to play video games. Video games provide a great opportunity to learn how to talk about handling frustration because failure is an important to the learning experience in video game play. Parents may also find that their 6- to 9-year-old is better at many of the video games than they are, giving the child an opportunity to learn the role of being a teacher rather than a student.

Read on for play diet recommendations on developmentally healthy activities for children between ages 6 and 9 across the five types of play — social, active, creative, free and digital play:

Social Play

Games and play become more social in nature. Many children join their first soccer or basketball team. They may be allowed to play with their friends in the backyard or have a play-date at a local playground. They may even start to call their friends on the phone or choose to play with selected peers at recess.

Active Play

A healthy play diet for 6- to 9-year-olds involves plenty of active play, including activities such as bike riding, playing tag, participating in organized sports, swimming, and simply being outdoors. Going on family hikes, running around at the beach, and doing gymnastics are other common forms of active play.

Creative Play

Creative play at this age involves engaging in activities such as coloring, drawing, building, or designing things. Creative play becomes more complex, with huge Lego constructions, multi-modal art projects, or constructing an indoor fort with boxes and other materials.

Free Play

A great deal of unstructured play such as playing with dolls and action figures still goes on between the ages of 6 and 9, encouraging imagination and storytelling. Make-believe play, such as playing “army” or “school,” also continues to be an important part of recreation time. Free play can be supplemented by books, movies, and television characters that a child enjoys.

Digital Play

Digital media play becomes a much more important and independent activity for children between the ages of 6 to 9. The best types of video games for 6- to 9-year-olds are action, active, music, racing, and sports games. Games of these genres generally have age-appropriate content for this age. In addition, many of these games facilitate learning through repetition, and the complex thinking that is required for puzzle, simulation, and strategy games is an opportunity to practice executive-functioning skills.

Beyond video games, facility with other digital media and tools is increasingly important in the lives of children between the ages of 6 and 9. These children are just beginning to use word-processing programs, calculators, and digital cameras. Children between the ages of 6 and 9 increasingly have homework that may require using the Internet, doing assignments or conducting research online. I strongly encourage close parental supervision of online activities. Parents need to monitor their children on a regular basis, and appropriate Internet behavior and communication should be established before they are allowed to use the Internet on their own.

Digital-play strategies for children between the ages of 6 and 9:

  • Play publicly. While parents do not need to look over a child’s shoulder at every moment, all digital play should be done in a public area, and parents should spend time with their children online. Appropriate Internet behavior and communication should be established before children are allowed to use the Internet on their own. Parents should guide children to appropriate, interesting websites such as National Geographic Kids or BrainPop to give them a healthy and safe place to surf.

  • Use game and app play to teach life skills. Just as you would help children learn to deal with the experience of losing a soccer game, you need to help them learn from their experiences when playing video games and using other digital media. Play a game such as Wii Sports Baseball to teach self-control or create something on Glogster with them to teach them about organization and self-awareness.

  • Model appropriate media behavior with your digital-media use. Pay attention to where and when you talk on your cell phone; how much time you spend surfing the Internet and watching television; and how you speak and act when you get frustrated with your computer, phone, or other digital device. Let your child see how you can be productive with Gmail or creative with Digital Photography to inspire those types of positive digital interactions in the child.

  • Joint media engagement should be the rule rather than the exception. As much as possible either join your children in their digital play or be in the same room as they play so that you can talk to them about their experiences. You could also engage with them in multiplayer games such as Mario Kart or LittleBIGPlanet.

  • Trust your sensibilities about violence, sexuality, and morality issues in games. These concerns become an increasing issue for 6- to 9-year-olds who want to play the games that teens and older siblings (and maybe even you or your spouse) play. Some cartoonish violence may be  acceptable if it fits your standards. However, swearing, sexual behavior, and overt person-to-person violence is not appropriate.

Recommended games and apps:

 Part of our series on Play Diet recommendations:

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