Choose a Child Care Provider Who's S.M.A.R.T. About Play!

Written by: Natalie Bortoli

Play is essential to healthy growth and development. When children are playing, they create their identities, build relationships, learn to focus, gain confidence and much more. At Chicago Children’s Museum, we encourage you to find a child care provider that makes “S.M.A.R.T.” choices for play.


Children need adults to help them stay safe physically and emotionally. Look for:

  1. A clean environment that ensures physical safety
  2. An environment that reduces the need to say “no” to children


Children love to play with materials they can use in multiple ways. Materials should encourage interaction and appeal to different interests, abilities and types of play. Look for:

  1. Sensory play (bubbles/sand)
  2. Dramatic play (dress-up clothes/dolls)
  3. Physical play (balls/puzzles)
  4. Constructive play (blocks)
  5. Literacy Play (books)


Young children are active players and learners. Caregivers should invite children to use all their senses—including movement—as they play. Look for:

  1. Infants and children playing and moving
  2. Indoor space for physical play    


Responsive caregivers watch, listen and follow the child’s lead.Look for:

  1. Respectful interactions between caregivers and children
  2. Children choosing what to do, how to do it and who to do it with


Children need long periods of uninterrupted time to play and explore. Providers should include long stretches of free play in their daily schedules. Look for:

  1. At least 45 minutes of free play in the morning and afternoon
  2. Daily outdoor playtime
  3. Consistent environment and play materials

Beth Wilson is the manager of early learning initiatives at Chicago Children’s Museum. She has been with the museum for five years and leads in the research and development of programs and exhibit experiences for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and their families.

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Posted on March 07, 2012 at 9:17 PM