How to identify and play to your child’s strengths

Strengths are the activities, relationships and ways of learning that energize people. They are the inner qualities that make us feel most alive and because of that, they are the places where we have the potential to make our most meaningful contributions to life. Strengths are different than interests because strengths are innate and children will be drawn to them for their entire lives, while interests may be fleeting. When strengths and interests combine, children can develop passions. Strengths can be developed at a very early age and parents can help out. Below are some simple guidelines to get you on the way to helping your children discover their strengths.

How to identify and play to your child's strengths

1. Use play and cultivate the imagination.
During imaginative play, children are free to unleash and exercise their Strengths. Watch children at play and you will learn a great deal about what they prefer, how they socialize, and the unique ways they view themselves. Play encourages cognitive enrichment and emotional growth.

2. Seek out what makes your child unique.
Little quirks can be clues to strengths. Something as simple as a child’s tendency to demand that his mother use a certain purse over another may signal a strength in something as seemingly unrelated as design. What initially may look like “showing-off” might be an early sign of a child who has a strength for entertaining. Sometimes the most unusual things signal the areas of deepest strength.

3. Keep a Strengths Journal.
Take note of the things your child does — anything that strikes you about his/her behavior. Here are a few of the kinds of questions that will guide you:

• What causes your child to express joy and happiness?

• What are the things that keep his attention the longest?

• Are there sounds or words he reacts to more than others?

• Is he generous? How does he show this?

• Does he show sympathy? Is he caring or funny? Give examples.

• What are the first thing he says in the morning and the last thing he says at night?

4. Create family traditions.
Creating family traditions helps children discover their relationship strengths. Relationship strengths are the things you do for and with other people that make you feel proud. In order for children to figure this out, they need to reflect on their interactions with others and recall the ones where they felt the most positive. Family traditions give children positive memories. How do you celebrate birthdays? For example, if you have a tradition of making the birthday child a king or queen for the day and you repeatedly do the same nice things — like let them choose their favorite meal — later in life children will recall this and be more apt to want to do this for others. The more traditions you develop where children have an active role in creating meaning for others, the easier it will be later in life to identify what causes them feel good contributing to others.

5. Listen to children.
They know their strengths better than anyone. In order to listen effectively, you must
ask a lot of questions. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.
Show your child you are interested in his perspective. For every answer you
receive, follow up with another question; “Why do you think that?” Genuinely
listen and reflect back your child what you believe you heard him say. If a child tells you he no longer wants to play soccer, rather than tell him why he should, say, “I hear you saying soccer no longer interests you, can you tell me why?”

6. Resist the urge to evaluate everything and overstate expectations.
While most parents want their children to succeed, sometimes they unintentionally burden children by evaluating everything they do. When your child shows you a picture she drew, instead of saying it is good, ask her what she likes best about drawing. Over-evaluation, whether negative or positive, makes children worry about how well they are doing, and this stifles their ability to take risks. Children need to feel like they can experiment with many things and that failing is OK and sometimes part of the journey toward discovering what they love to do most. Unreasonably high expectations often pressure children to perform and conform within strictly prescribed guidelines, and they deter experimentation, exploration, and innovation. Children love to please adults and sometimes they perform in order to gain your approval or meet your expectations rather than because they truly enjoy the task. The more children are free to explore and try new things, the easier it will be to discover strengths. When you let go of the expectations you have for what you want them to do and how you want them to do it they are freer to discover what they really feel energized by.

7. Strengths are more than interests. Help children discover both.
Strengths are the positive feelings that children have when they perform different actions. Interests are the areas where they apply their strengths. For example, a child may be drawn to animals and therefore it can be said they have an interest in animals. However, one child may like to care for animals while another may enjoy training them. The strength for one child is caring and for the other it is teaching. The strength is what someone likes to do, while the interest is where they like to apply it. The strength can be transferred to other interests. For example, the child who likes to train animals may also like to teach children. When you help children discover both their strengths and their interests, they have a good chance to develop a true passion.

8. Let them tell their own stories.
Kids don’t care if you walked ten miles to school. To discover their strengths they want to know you care about what their unique experiences in the world are, not necessarily how you did things. Let them find their own paths; they may not want to play basketball just because you did. Sometimes kids forgo their own passions to please you.

9. Don’t compare them to their older siblings.
There is nothing more hampering of children’s abilities to discover their strengths than when they feel they are constantly being compared to their perfect siblings. Every child will be unique and different. The differences are causes for celebration not comparisons that may make them feel not good enough. You can see the differences in your children early on in their lives. The more you celebrate this, the better.

10. Give them as many choices about what to do as possible.
Do you want children to help around the house? Use it as an opportunity to discover their preferences and let them choose among the jobs you have for them to do. Do you want them to participate in school activities? Encourage them to choose between a variety of things to do, support their choices even if they aren’t what you would pick.

Discovering strengths happens through a process of self-reflection. All of the above tips will help children develop positive and creative thoughts which will help them decide what their true passions are in life.

Make a Strengths Chain

Share Make a Strengths Chain

Coming soon Google Classroom

To help kids thrive, recognizing their strengths is just as important as working on their challenges. Here’s a cool—and crafty—way to identify kids’ strengths and connect them in a paper chain, or a “strengths chain.”

Download and print the set of worksheets above and follow the directions. Want a demonstration before you dive in? Watch the video below.

For families:

Make the strengths chain with your child. Working together will help both of you see your child’s strengths and how they link together. Planning to do this activity with more than one child? Print a full set of worksheets for each child in case they may have many of the same strengths.

For educators:

After your students create their own strengths chains, connect the chains to make one long chain to hang in your classroom. The activity can spark a conversation in your class about how everyone has strengths and challenges. Plus, the completed strengths chain is a visible reminder to your students that they all contribute to making the classroom community stronger.

Related Downloads

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Print lunchbox notes that can help boost kids’ confidence.


About the Author

About the Author

Amanda Morin worked as a classroom teacher and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. She is the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education. Two of her children have learning differences.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.

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Share Strengths Chain: Hands-On Activity to Help Kids Identify Their Strengths

Last Updated: April 8, 2021 References

This article was co-authored by Tracey Rogers, MA. Tracey L. Rogers is a Certified Life Coach and Professional Astrologer based in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area. Tracey has over 10 years of life coaching and astrology experience. Her work has been featured on nationally syndicated radio, as well as online platforms such as She is certified by the Life Purpose Institute, and she has an MA in International Education from The George Washington University.

There are 18 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 79,592 times.

Years ago children were labeled using terms that indicated how “dumb” or “smart” they were thought to be. Much of this labeling occurred in schools. School’s main source of evaluation was a student’s ability to perform on paper. As we now know, this type of evaluation had many problems and limitations. But at the time, it resulted in students who had unusually great abilities sometimes being labeled as dumb. This was especially true if a child had differing ways of approaching, comprehending, and engaging problems. Fortunately, today we recognize that there are many different types of intelligence and many different ways that children can express their abilities.

How to identify and play to your child's strengths

How to identify and play to your child's strengths

How to identify and play to your child's strengths

How to identify and play to your child's strengths

How to identify and play to your child's strengths

Tracey Rogers, MA
Certified Life Coach Expert Interview. 6 January 2020. You can do this through formal or informal means. This way, not only will you be able to see how your child performs in different types of situations, but you’ll also be able to see what your child is most interested in.

  • Consider signing your child up for athletic activities, artistic activities, and intellectual activities.
  • Suggest activities to your child, but if they refuse to go, you should reconsider the activity.
  • While having your child sign up for many extracurricular activities is a good thing, make sure that your child is not over-committed and still has time to be a kid.
  • Make sure your child plays with peers and friends of different cultural and socioeconomic levels. You never know when someone from a different background will introduce an activity that your child will excel at. [6] X Research source

How to identify and play to your child's strengths

How to identify and play to your child's strengths

Tracey Rogers, MA
Certified Life Coach Expert Interview. 6 January 2020.

  • Ask your child what academic subjects she thinks she is best at as well as which she enjoys the most. Make sure you differentiate between enjoyment and talent.
  • Ask your child if she thinks she’s good at any sports as well as which sports she enjoys the most.
  • Ask your child if she thinks she is good at art and if she enjoys doing artistic things.
  • Your child may not be able to articulate what she is good at. However, if she enjoys certain activities, this may point to a talent she is unaware of. [10] X Research source

When I’m called upon to assist a child who is struggling in school, I find the spotlight is invariably focused on a child’s weaknesses. This is particularly common for the child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), as poor social skills have brought additional negativity into play.

Years of remedial effort have been poured into fixing what’s broken, rather than capitalizing on what works. In other words, if a child can’t read, hours are spent teaching that child with methods that didn’t work in the first place. If there are behavior issues, the same punitive measures are used over-and-over, yet there’s no improvement.

When the spotlight shifts onto areas where your child shines, in his/her areas of strengths and personal interest, there are often very dramatic improvements in work effort and negative behaviors often significantly diminish.

Areas of Strength

Child psychologist and recognized authority on ADHD, Dr. Robert Brooks, developed the term “islands of competence” in reference to these areas of strength. I interpret his concept in the following way:

Everyone has strengths, but sometimes they’re not obvious. We must find those areas of strength and build on them. Every person must feel they are making a contribution to their environment. If we accept both these concepts, the obvious thing to do is to build upon them.

I’ve used both concepts in helping a parent obtain services for a child suffering from academic failure and low self-esteem. Every child must feel important and every child must taste success.

Once academic needs are determined and appropriate services are in place, it’s extremely important to begin building self-confidence and self-reliance. It’s essential to have a concerted effort both at home and at school, with clear communication between the school officials and the parents.

Dr. Brooks likes for each of his young patients to have a special job at school in an area related to the child’s interests and needs. It can be something like feeding pets or taking attendance to the office monitor. This can take creativity and ingenuity, but it’s essential.

The schools I visit are usually resistant to this effort. After all, many have never tried this positive approach to resolve behavior issues or low self-esteem problems. School personnel look at us like we’ve lost a few screws. But it works! Inappropriate behaviors diminish, the child walks taller, often begins to show improved self-confidence, and demonstrates reliability. He feels needed and recognized for his efforts.

Sadly, the child with ADHD is often the last picked for helping out with different tasks. In reality, it’s one of the single most effective tools to help your child gain self-confidence.

Ways to Help Your Child

The focus of scholastic effort must also be on the child’s strengths. Following, are just a few examples and suggestions for compensating effectively for weaknesses and building on strengths.

  • If your child has excellent verbal skills and creativity, but writing is a struggle, you might ask for daily use of a computer. If a child demonstrates such a need, (and I see this often in ADHD and learning disabilities), than the school is responsible for providing that assistive technology. Remember your child doesn’t have to settle for the broken computer in the corner of the room (which happens all too frequently). Any needed equipment must be in working order and be made available in the regular learning environment. If you’re concerned about the condition of equipment, you can stipulate in any 504 plan or IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that the equipment be in working order and located in an area immediately accessible to the student.
  • Perhaps your child grasps math concepts, but has difficulty performing the actual calculations on paper. A calculator is a great assistive device for such children. Sometimes there are complaints that the child has to first learn math the “old fashioned way.” Practical experience has taught me that if a child can’t perform very basic math calculations by, say, the fifth grade, it will probably always be somewhat difficult. Is he/she going to suddenly become proficient in this area when an adult or count fingers? Most likely not. This person will buy a calculator for as little as $5.00 and finally become successful in performing practical arithmetic calculations. Why not start early to help the person with a math disability progress rapidly with the concepts by using a calculator to bypass the disability? This is not to say a child should not continue to work on mastery of calculations as well.
  • Or take the fifth-grader who’s struggling with second-grade spelling, perhaps spending as much as two hours a night trying to learn a list of twenty words. The most common modification, if any is made at all, is to cut the list in half. What if we let that child spend spelling time becoming computer literate? With the use of a spell checker and word processor program to offset organizational difficulties and spelling difficulties, children suddenly blossom into creative authors.
  • A child who is very distractible in the classroom can show dramatic improvement when work is produced on a computer. Many children with ADHD tend to lose the thought somewhere between brain and pencil, but are excellent writers when using a computer. There seems to be an instant direct connection between brain and screen. Organizational skills show improvement. Problem solving skills are also honed on the computer, bypassing faulty circuitry that gets in the way of real learning. In each of these instances weaknesses are diminished by technology that levels the playing field for people with disabilities. The spotlight then shifts from the writing weakness to the content strengths.

What you like to do depends on your interests, strengths and needs. You will notice that the things you like to do are usually those you are good at or have developed the skills to do or simply enjoy. Children are just the same! They are all individuals with their own likes and dislikes.

When planning experiences for the children in your care, you need to take into account the same things. Click on each of the tabs below to find out more.

Below are a number of interests people might have. Soccer, basketball, shopping, bird watching, parachuting, bungee jumping, reading, footy, gardening, and knitting.

Think about the following questions.

  1. Which of these interests do you like?
  2. Now take a moment to reflect on how you would feel if someone made you do the ones you didn’t select. You probably wouldn’t be too happy being involved in an experience that didn’t interest you.

How to identify and play to your child's strengths

Just like you, the interests of a child will determine which experiences they would prefer to participate in. Some children have many interests and are willing to try new things, while other children like to stick to a small range of interests they know and feel comfortable with.

  • for the emotional security of the child, offer familiar experiences first and then slowly introduce the unfamiliar
  • to promote feelings of success, offer simple experiences the child is able to succeed with and then offer more complex experiences to challenge them.

It’s important to consider children’s interests and try to include these in the experiences you organise for them. The more you can provide experiences that interest them, the more likely they are to want to join in and the more they will enjoy the activity.

Imagine you had a child in your care who was interested in ballet dancing. How could you include this interest in a range of planned experiences? Write your thoughts in your notebook.

How to identify and play to your child's strengths

Strengths are areas of development children have mastered or are well on the way to mastering. They may include routine tasks or tasks planned to cover the range of developmental areas:

  • physical
  • social
  • emotional and psychological
  • language
  • cognitive
  • creative.

By observing children’s play, skills and behaviour as they participate in a range of routines and play experiences, you can identify an individual child’s strengths as a basis for planning an environment that is appropriate and enjoyable for your child.

For example, a 2-year-old may enjoy throwing a ball. (As a gross motor skill, this is part of physical development). You will plan and provide opportunities for that child to throw a variety of materials, such as bean bags and balls (large and small), into laundry baskets, boxes and large circles drawn on the ground.

How to identify and play to your child's strengths

Children grow and develop at individual rates and acquire skills at different ages.

Their needs come from areas of skills they are still developing, acquiring, mastering or refining.

For example, you may identify that a child is still working towards mastering a particular fine motor skill, such as cutting with scissors, when others of the same age in the group are able to do this independently.

For this child to achieve success there needs to be provision in the program for cutting materials such paper or thin cardboard held by someone else.

You might also provide a play dough experience that will help build fine motor strength.

How to identify and play to your child's strengths

Children can spend up to 12,500 hours in the first five years of life in group childcare. They might then spend another 1,500 hours in before-school or after-school care, or in vacation care. By spending this time away from home, many children miss the opportunity to experience and master such skills as:

  • washing and drying dishes
  • hanging washing on the clothesline
  • folding washing
  • making their beds
  • sweeping floors
  • washing floors
  • cleaning tables
  • polishing tables and wooden furniture
  • podding peas
  • peeling potatoes
  • digging and planting a flowerbed or vegetable garden
  • raking leaves
  • sweeping sand
  • composting food scraps.

Look at the many ways in which children can be involved in some of these tasks, so that they learn and practise appropriate skills and feel good about contributing to the program. You might even find your workload is reduced and that children show more ownership, respect and care for the equipment and materials if they are responsible for them.

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Knowing your child’s own learning style can assure academic success. Here’s what to look for.

Don’t panic if your son has trouble spelling or your daughter can’t sit still during history class. It may be that he or she simply has a different learning style.

Every child learns in a slightly different way, experts say, and figuring out your child’s own learning style can help assure academic success. In some cases, it may even help do away with labels, like “attention deficit disorder (ADD)” and “learning disabled (LD).”

Here’s a step-by-step guide to identifying, understanding, and making the most of your child’s learning style.

Learning Styles: Identifying Your Child’s Strengths

Parents need to keep their eyes and ears open to figure out what works best for their children when it comes to learning, says Mel Levine, MD, co-founder of All Kinds of Minds, a nonprofit institute for the study of learning differences.

“Some children are hands-on, while others work best through language and do well with reading,” says Levine, a pediatrics professor at the University of North Carolina Medical School. “Some children understand things better than they remember them.

“There are many different patterns of learning, and the best thing that a parent can do is step back and observe what seems to be happening and what seems to be working with their child.”

Levine suggests that parents begin evaluating their child’s learning style at age 6 or 7. Learning styles really start to crystallize during the middle school years.

Understanding your child’s disposition can also help you determine his or her learning style, says Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis, MS, a learning coach based in Ventura, Calif., and author of Discover Your Child’s Learning Style.

For example, is your child adventurous? Inventing? Or thinking/creating like a poet or a philosopher?

“An adventurous personality really has to move to learn, so sitting at desk all day doesn’t do it for them,” she says. By contrast, “a child with an inventing disposition asks a million questions, such as ‘How does this work?’ ‘What about this?'”

Another factor to observe is your child’s “learning modality”, she says. This refers to which senses your child best learns through. Are they auditory (listening and verbal), visual (picture or print), or tactile-kinesthetics (hands-on, whole-body, sketching or writing)?


“Some people are more visual and need pictures to learn, while print learners need print,” she explains.

Another aspect of learning style involves the environment, she says. For example, noise, temperature or lighting may affect some children’s ability to learn.

“For one child, temperature might not make a difference, but some children can’t concentrate if it’s too hot, and/or lighting can be a crucial factor for some people if fluorescent lighting causes eyestrain,” she says.

Learning Styles: Playing to Your Child’s Strengths

Once you have identified your child’s learning style, you can begin to build on his or her strengths to compensate for learning weaknesses — without labels.

“If a little girl has a lot of spatial problems (difficulty picturing things), but is terrific in English, she can learn math by putting everything into her own words,” Levine explains. “If you show her an equilateral triangle and ask her to talk about it, boy, will she understand it.

“She can only understand things in words, which is why she is such a terrific English student.”

Another way to enhance learning is to focus on your child’s affinities and areas of interest.

“A lot of strength could ride on the coattails of their passions, and you can build academic skills in that area,” Levine says. “Have him became an expert in the area that he feels passionate about.”

Pelullo-Willis agrees. “Parents really should encourage children’s interests, talents and what they love to do,” she says. “Parents tend to say ‘If you are not doing well in school, you can’t take horseback riding lessons,’ but those are things that can build self-esteem.

Further, she says, “acknowledging and honoring their interests and talents tells you a lot about their learning style. If your child is really interested in plants and gardening, you can see if they are more hands-on and they need to go out there and garden. Or do they learn better from pictures about gardening, or reading about gardening?”

Learning Styles: Increasing Awareness in Schools

As it stands, schools mainly teach to print, auditory and language learners, according to Pelullo-Willis.


“They teach by saying ‘Read, answer the questions and listen to me talk’ and that only covers a small percentage of children,” she says.

If your child is a hands-on learner, “You can say: ‘Of course school is so hard for you; you need to move a lot and they don’t do that in school,'” she says. “Then learn everything you can about how to use their learning style to make school easier.”

Adds Levine: “We are learning more and more that there are differences in learning, and to treat everyone the same is to treat them unequally.”

The good news is that growing numbers of teachers are focusing on learning styles and reaching out to all types of learners.

For example, Levine helped launch the Schools Attuned program. This professional development program helps teachers acquire the knowledge and skills they need to accommodate learning differences. To date, the program has offered training to 30,000 teachers.

But if your child’s teacher has not been trained in learning styles, don’t despair, Pelullo-Willis says. Instead, talk to him or her about what you have observed about your child’s learning style.

“Say, ‘Wow, I have just discovered this and I tried it, and he got it. Do you think we could work together using this kind of information?’ And the teacher may even get interested in reading a book or article on learning style,” she says.

Learning Styles

Learning styles is a term that refers to different ways in which we learn, process, and retain information. All young children learn through meaningful hands-on experiences—through touching, doing, and moving. And children also learn through seeing and hearing. As you observe your child, you will begin to identify strengths and preferences that tell you something about your child’s preferred learning style.

You want to foster your child’s strengths, but remember that it helps to challenge him to grow as well. Your child can excel in a variety of areas. Therefore, offer a variety of experiences to help your child develop new strengths and interests that will broaden his or her understanding of the world.

Types of Learning Styles

These are the four main types of learning styles:

  • Visual (learn through seeing)
  • Auditory (learn through hearing)
  • Tactile (learn through touch)
  • Kinesthetic (learn through doing and moving)

Visual learners learn through seeing. Children who are visual processors tend to observe a parent’s or teacher’s body language and facial expressions for content and learn through demonstrations and descriptions. They tend to have well-developed imaginations and often think in pictures. Too much movement or action in a classroom may cause distraction for them. For older children who read, written instructions may help clarify verbal directions.

Auditory learners learn through listening. Children who are auditory processors learn through participating in discussions and talking things through. Verbal directions may help clarify instructions or written information. Too much noise may be distracting and children with this strength may learn best in a quiet environment.

Tactile learners learn through touch. Children who are more tactile prefer activities or projects that allow them to use their hands. Your child may prefer doodling or drawing to aid memory.

Kinesthetic learners learn through moving and doing. Children who are more kinesthetic learn through physical sensations and may have trouble sitting still for long periods. A hands-on approach that allows your child to actively explore her physical world helps her learn best.

How Can You Determine Your Child’s Learning Style?

The best way to learn about your child’s learning style is to observe what he or she is doing. Actions, interests, and preferences will provide information about how he or she is processing information.

If your child has developmental delays, you may find that you often focus on what your child isn’t yet doing. Instead, try to focus on his strengths and favorite activities. All children, even the most challenged, have interests and preferences. Identifying these helps increase a child’s motivation for learning.

Speak with family members and your child’s team to develop an inventory of toys, objects, and activities that are meaningful for your child. Ask yourself questions like these:

  • What types of toys does she prefer? Does she prefer quiet activities or lots of movement?
  • Does he like to read books and draw pictures? Does he prefer to be shown how to do something rather than being told verbally?
  • Is she active? Does she like to move and participate in more active activities?
  • Is he drawn to numbers and patterns?

How Can You Support Your Child’s Learning Style?

Parents and teachers have a tremendous influence on children. Understanding how a child learns can improve how we teach them. Early childhood programs are often organized in a way that supports the range of children’s strengths and needs.

This includes having:

  • Adequate periods for movement
  • Group circle and music time
  • Learning centers in the classroom that include a myriad of experiences (for example, reading corner, block area, manipulatives/fine motor area, outdoor play, and art)

This supports participation of children with a wide range of learning styles, while also exposing children to experiences they may not typically seek out.

As adults, we can help children better understand their strengths and individual differences, while supporting challenges. You can seek out real-world experiences that extend your child’s learning. For example, if your child is interested in fish and aquatic life, visit an aquarium. Your child will retain more information and develop a broader understanding of the world if information is meaningful and presented in a way that meets his or her individual learning style.

Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice . New York, NY: BasicBooks.

Edwards, L. (2002). The Creative Arts: A Process Approach for Teachers and Children . Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

How can you best support your child’s play experiences?

How to identify and play to your child's strengthsSupport your child’s play without taking over.

Maria Montessori said that, “Play is children’s work.” So, where do you fit into their work? Are you the boss, leader, coach, coworker? While play may be the work of children, the work does not get done single-handedly. Quality play experiences are created and nurtured when adults are involved in the process.

Leading versus supporting

It’s important to make a note that supporting and leading or controlling are two different roles that adults can play when it comes to their child’s play, and only one of them is beneficial for the child. When adults control, lead or take over a child’s play, they are violating the basic principles of play being self-chosen and self-directed by the child. When children lose the freedom to explore openly, the experience loses its meaning.

Instead, if we support a child’s experiences by being present and engaged, but not taking over, we allow them to build up themselves, engage in learning and exploration and we can provide opportunities to help stretch and grow their experiences.

Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework’s “Learning and developing through play” identifies the following three stages of adult support of play.

1. Planning for play

Adults have ultimate control over a child’s environment. By making sure you have a fun and appropriate environment for your child to play in, you can help them grow. You can help plan your child’s play by:

  • Paying attention to environment and structure. When you structure an environment (either indoors or outdoors) based on a child’s strengths, abilities and needs, you can enhance their normal play and help them be successful and independent.
  • Building and extending. Challenge a child’s current knowledge or understanding through opportunities or materials that extend upon their current experiences or understanding.
  • Providing choices. Giving children the freedom to make their own choices is not only empowering, but helps them to lead their own learning experiences based on their interests and abilities.

2. Supporting play

In order to help a child learn and know, you need to learn to know your child, which you can do by supporting their play. You can support children’s play by:

  • Talking about play. Adults can extend and support a child’s play simply by engaging with children during play. Adults can talk to children about their play. By being involved, children learn that adults are invested in them and respect their play decisions.
  • Validating their efforts. Participating in play with your child is fun for them and shows them you value what they are doing. Your presence and proximity to children can communicate a lot to them.
  • Adding to children’s play. In actively participating in play, when invited, adults can extend upon a child’s current knowledge and help them make new connections. This can be done by modeling positive behaviors or interactions.
  • Preventing problems. By being actively involved in the process of play, adults are in a good position to intervene if a situation arises when a child might need help, whether it is an interpersonal conflict, a problem or a safety concern. It’s important to remember children need opportunities to practice problem solving and conflict resolution independently as well. Make sure to give children ample opportunities to practice these skills on their own and only intervene if necessary.
  • Building children up. Sometimes children may need help engaging in activities or joining an activity, and when adults are regularly a part of their play, they can be a good bridge to help children feel comfortable initiating and participating in play.

3. Reviewing play

Reviewing a child’s play can help collect information about the child and help you to extend upon their current activities and learning. You can review your child’s play by:

  • Checking in. By observing, talking and listening to your child, you can learn about the purpose, effectiveness and enjoyment of a child’s play experiences. This information can help you think about ways to keep their play engaging and meaningful in the future.
  • Observing the space. Having a space that is well suited for a child’s play is important. By thinking about how the space impacted your child’s play, you can think of ways to make it even better.
  • Thinking critically. You can really get to know a child by observing and interacting with them during play. Through those experiences, you can think critically about a child’s interests, interactions, relationships and preferences to check up on their progress and help inspire future successes.
  • Making plans. By taking all of the information gathered by planning and participating in play, you can make plans for the future to fix any issues, build upon a child’s need and enhance the overall play experience for your child.

By being actively involved in your child’s play, you can help them learn and grow. You create opportunities to build a supportive and trusting relationship with your child and help build them up in the process. You have the power to help your child unlock the power of play!

Don’t miss the other articles in The Power of Play series, “Stages of play,” “Born to play,” “Types of play” and “Characteristics of play.”

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

Other articles in this series

  • The power of play – Part 1: Stages of play
  • The power of play – Part 2: Born to play
  • The power of play – Part 3: Types of play
  • The power of play – Part 4: Characteristics of play

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit To contact an expert in your area, visit, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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How to identify and play to your child's strengths

We have all witnessed it. Students with special needs often receive negative comments or misconstrued negative comments. Day after day, students or parents are frequently told to fix this, increase this or improve that. How about finding the positive and looking for student strengths in the classroom? When we encourage students that they can do it because they are capable it is so important. They know we are on their “team” and that we believe in them. Don’t forget to download the FREE positive affirmation pack at the bottom of this post too!

We all know every student has strengths. It is our job as teachers, therapists and parents, to help students utilize their strengths and talents to the best of their abilities. Temple Grandin says it best – “There needs to be a lot more emphasis on what a child CAN do, instead of what he cannot do. ”

How to identify and play to your child's strengths

Need Help to Determine Student Strengths in the Classroom?

When we help students find their strengths it can help with motivational level and internal drive to improve. For example, if a student has a wonderful imagination utilize that when teaching new skills.

If you need some help to determine positive attributes and talents in students finish some of these statements (with the student and parents help):

1. This student is best at…
2. This student has an amazing ability to…
3. This student is frequently recognized for…
4. This student smiles when…
5. This student is happiest when…
6. This student participates the most when…
7. This student does this better than any other student…
8. This student is highly interested in…
9. This student is highly motivated by…
10. This student always takes pride in his/her work when…

Try Being More Specific About Student Strengths

If you need more suggestions to pinpoint student strengths in the classroom, then consider some of these character traits to help guide you.

  • energetic
  • loving
  • kind
  • creative
  • outgoing
  • determined
  • adventurous
  • cooperative
  • trustworthy
  • leader
  • playful
  • courageous
  • funny
  • smart
  • helpful
  • bossy
  • confident
  • persistent

Use Positive Affirmations to Support Students

Positive affirmations for children (and mantras) are terrific tools to teach to support students. They help them develop a healthy sense of self as well as a positive mental-social-emotional mindset.

Affirmations are short; positive “I am” statements that call you into an intentional way of being. They should be accompanied by a visual image and inspire visceral sensations. When you use an affirmation, you should experience yourself as you are declaring.

Download FREE Positive Affirmation Below

How to identify and play to your child's strengths

Sign up to receive the weekly email newsletter and other announcements from Your Therapy Source and you will be redirected to this AWESOME FREE 5 page printable.

Positive Affirmation Resources

How to identify and play to your child's strengths

Support student strengths in the classroom by combining positive affirmations for kids and proprioceptive input with The Positive Path. Children can jump along the path or do wall push-ups while they read words of encouragement. Students can benefit from proprioceptive input to help get their bodies ready to learn.

Using the power of positive thinking with daily affirmations and physical activity can help students get their brain and bodies ready to tackle the school day. FIND OUT MORE.

How to identify and play to your child's strengths

Positive Affirmation Posters and Cards for Children: This is an electronic book of 25 positive affirmation posters (8.5″ x 11″) and smaller cards of the posters (4.25″ x 2.75″). Empower children to realize all of their talents. All too often, children with special needs are told what they are unable to do, how about teach them what they can do! Positive affirmations help children to believe in themselves. The posters include simple text, animal pictures that complement the text and colorful backgrounds. Hang them up around the house, class or therapy room and provide the child with the small cards to carry around to reinforce the concept. FIND OUT MORE.