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Guiding Through Play: Help Your Child Develop Key Skills

brick play for child skills development

By Dr Gina Gómez de la Cuesta, Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Play Included

Play is fundamental to children’s learning and development. Playful experiences help develop children’s brains, and from the age of three, children can regulate their feelings, take turns, and problem-solve. Many parents are already aware of the importance of free play (unstructured playful activities) for children but are less familiar with guided play. By encouraging, coaching, and guiding children during playtime, adults can help children develop important skills more quickly.

What skills does play develop?

There are five key skills that children strengthen during play. Developing these skills helps children to thrive throughout their entire lives.

  • Creative skills: not only does creativity involve exploring new ideas and solutions, but it also helps build children’s confidence as they learn to trust their instincts.

  • Cognitive skills: going beyond literacy and numeracy, children develop their ability to think critically, process information and remember things through play. Whether this is remembering instructions or thinking about the next steps in a game, play helps to develop all of the skills our children will rely on as they go on to school and beyond.

  • Emotional skills: from solving a tricky puzzle or navigating a game that has gone wrong, children develop their emotional capacity to deal with disappointment in a safe space while they are playing. One-on-one time between a parent and child can also be particularly beneficial for children’s emotional well-being.

  • Physical skills: running, jumping, dancing, skipping. Not only does play support children’s physical health and wellbeing, but playing with smaller items such as LEGO® DUPLO® bricks can help strengthen children’s fine motor skills.

  • Social skills: not only are things more fun with friends, but playing with other children or grown-ups helps children develop their collaboration, problem-solving, and turn-taking skills. Not only does group play help children become empathetic listeners, playing with others has been proven to support children’s mental health and well-being, too.

Helping them thrive brick-by-brick

We all love to play! Parents and family members have an important role to play when it comes to helping children learn through play. It is important to give children the freedom to experiment and learn through trial and error; by resisting the urge to step in, you will help them develop valuable skills.

When children try things for themselves, they are more likely to remember them – and be able to apply their new-found knowledge to other situations. By asking open questions, you can encourage children to explore for themselves.

At Play Included®, we have developed some free LEGO® brick-based activities that families can use together. All of them can be adapted to suit individual needs and strengths so that everybody can enjoy playing together.

‘What’s in the Box’ encourages children to develop their social, emotional, creative, and cognitive skills by asking them to describe the shapes and colors of different bricks. Simply pop a handful of bricks in a clear plastic box and let your child choose a brick that they describe to you. As they do, notice what they are saying and doing, give lots of praise and feedback, and ask questions to encourage them.

You can also try to build the tallest tower you can together. Take turns to build up the tower by choosing bricks and asking questions as you go; taking a photo or showing your tower to someone else can help children feel a sense of pride in their creation. The act of building, measuring, and turn-taking helps children to develop physical, creative, cognitive, and social skills.

Another simple activity to try together is ‘Find the Brick.’ After hiding up to 10 LEGO® bricks, give your child clues on where to find the brick. Remember to celebrate together once each brick is found! By asking questions, taking turns, finding hiding places, moving around, and remembering instructions, children will develop their creative, cognitive, emotional, physical, and social skills – while having lots of fun.

Find more activities that you can enjoy with your child here:


Dr. Gina Gómez de la Cuesta founded Play Included (formerly Bricks for Autism) in 2018. She is co-author of the LEGO®-based Therapy manual. and continues to be involved with academic research as well as clinical practice in the NHS, specializing in autism and child and adolescent mental health. She has published several academic papers on LEGO®-based therapy, including for the I-SOCIALISE randomized control trial

Photo by Eric Cruz Lopez

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