Playing Together as a Family

Our spaces at the Museum are designed with ages 0-9 at the forefront, but that doesn’t mean they’re not fun for everyone! We recently shared the valuable ways play is good for people of any age, and we want to follow up with ways families can play together both in our spaces and in your own homes.


In their Parenting Essentials guide, the CDC suggests these rules for engaging in play with your kids:

1. Creativity is key

While there is always room for board games and books, try to incorporate activities that allow your kids to use their creativity in fun and exciting ways. They will be supported by your participation and encouragement, which will lead to them having confidence in their creativity in the future.

2. Safety first

It should be a no-brainer, but make sure you are engaging in activities with materials that are safe for the ages of participants. When we mix age groups (the whole family, for example), it’s important to remember we are limiting ourselves to what our smallest members can do.

3. Skill level matters

Just because two-year-olds can do it, doesn’t mean it has to be boring for eight-year-olds. Find ways to incorporate all levels in your play time, whether that means supporting the younger kids directly in more difficult tasks or letting the older kids lead the activity in a different role. There are lots of cool things that are fun for everyone.

4. Resources for all

Whatever you’re playing or doing, make sure you have enough of everything necessary for everyone involved. This time should be a positive bonding experience, not a moment to try anyone’s patience or have a mini life lesson on the value of sharing resources and taking turns. Drawing? Have plenty of paper and art supplies. Playing dolls? Make sure you have at least one for everyone.

5. Make the time

As lovely as it is to imagine these moments of delight happening naturally, you must schedule them to make it a priority. This doesn’t mean it’s a huge family outing every week. It can simply be every night after dinner (yes, try to do it every day!) you spend a minimum 15-20 minutes intentionally including the entire family in an activity together.

6. Consistency equals value

As mentioned above, every day is important. This teaches your kiddos that you value time with them above all else. Not just when you’re in the mood or have time. Put these moments, even if they’re small, into your daily schedule first. Some families have weekly meetings for activity and meal planning; this would also be a good time to brainstorm your play time for the week.

7. Shower praise like glitter

Glitter sticks to everything! It’s so hard to erase or get rid of. Similarly, your kids will remember the kind words you share and remember you are their biggest fan. Be genuine and observational in your praise. “I love the way you shared that with your sister just now.” It’s also important to share how much fun you’re having (and you SHOULD be having fun; if you’re not, you should reassess your play time plans) as a form of praise, “I really enjoy [insert activity] with you.”

8. Describe and imitate their actions

This is usually ascribed to younger children, but this is an effective tool even for teenagers. Say out loud what you’re seeing in their actions. This shows you are paying attention to them, which all ages desire. Think how often you hear, “Look at me! Watch this!” Doing what they’re doing shows you are letting them take the lead.

9. Limit questions and criticism

Play time is for bonding, trust-building, and FUN. Keep questions to a minimum, even simple ones. Kids sometimes think questions mean they’re doing something wrong and start to limit themselves. Kids are asked questions and told what to do all day long; give them a break during play time, no matter their ages.


At the Children’s Museum

Of course, our first answer is, “Come visit the Museum!” We do try our best to make it easy for families to interact together. Our spaces are accommodating to all sizes and abilities, even providing spaces like the Infant & Toddler Play Porch – which is open to all, but designed to provide our youngest a safe play environment. We asked some of the caregivers who visit the Museum often where they best like to play with their kids.

Playing in the quarry at the Childrens Museum of Southern Minnesota“I think the digging area is awesome! I enjoy it as much as my kids!”


Playing together as a family in the grow it gallery at CMSM in Mankato“My little ones really love to serve me in the cafe area. I get really into it and make special requests and send compliments to the chef. I’ve often wished it was real food!”


“I love painting on the acrylic wall maybe more than my kids do. Is that wrong?”

Play at Home

As much as parents may want to fully engage in play with their kids at home every day, it isn’t always easy to think of things everyone will enjoy. So, we also asked some parents of all ages of kiddos what their favorite things are to do at home right now.

“I always wished my dad would’ve played with me more, so I really prioritize it in my day. I don’t want my kids to ever say that about me. We’re lucky their school day doesn’t start until 9:30am, so I play a game with them every morning. Sometimes a board game, sometimes hide and seek. But something every morning. It gets all our days started right.”


Family Game Night“Whenever we have an ‘easy dinner,’ like frozen pizza or an assortment of appetizers (we call them tapas to feel fancy), then we put a game in the middle of the dinner table. Sometimes it’s Scrabble, sometimes Stomple, sometimes Mexican Train dominoes. But whatever it is, we laugh more and we stay longer than we would otherwise.”


“Right now our favorite is a sprinkler outside. Banging toy hammers to figure out new sounds. Building rocket ships and sending them to ‘space’ and crash landings.”


“We set up our waterslide, kiddie pool, and Bunch-O-Balloons and let the kids go crazy.”


playing together outside in nature as family“Our favorite way to play is to not plan at all! Sometimes we end up on a grasshopper hunt. Sometimes we grab a ball and play kick ball. Sometimes we end up on a road trip and find a great mini golf course. In our family, outside play is king, no matter the weather.”


“We play lots of board games but my daughter is too little to follow the rules, so we just play with the pieces in whatever way seems the most fun.”


“This weekend the highlight was a paper airplane making and flying competition. We all agreed it was the highlight of the day! Really the week.”

Whether here at the Museum or at home, we hope you’ll make time in your weeks and days to play with your families. It’s exciting for everyone and truly sets the tone for your interactions in the harder parts of your week.

How do YOU like to play?

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