Play for Pre-Schoolers with ADHD

by Yafa Crane Luria



Play for pre-schoolers with ADHD

Children grow and mature through predictable stages. Each child, however, has their own unique timetable for their development. Typical behavior for young children may be mistaken for signs of ADHD. ADHD, the 2nd D notwithstanding, is not a disorder but, more accurately, a collection of behaviors or traits.

The following have been used to describe children with ADHD:

  • Inattentive
    Makes careless mistakes
    Difficulty sustaining attention
    Doesn’t appear to listen
    Struggles to follow through on instructions
    Avoids or dislikes tasks requiring a lot of thinking
    Loses things
    Easily distracted
    Forgetful in daily activities
    Fidgets with hands/feet or squirms in chair
    Difficulty remaining seated
    Runs about/climbs excessively
    Difficulty engaging in activities quietly
    Acts as if driven by a motor
    Talks excessively
    Blurts out answers before questions have been completed
    Difficulty waiting or taking turns
    Interrupts or intrudes

Play is the way all young children were meant to learn about themselves, others and the world around them. It utilizes and incorporates their whole being—physically, emotionally, cognitively and socially. In play, these aspects of their development overlap and interplay with one another naturally. Play can empower children—especially children with ADHD—giving them strategies, techniques and tools.

One type of play especially useful is opened-ended, unstructured play. Opened-ended, unstructured play allows children to play freely, using their imaginations and/or expressing their unique creativity. There are no pre-set rules to follow or limitations imposed by open-ended play. Open-ended play has no expectations; it’s process-oriented rather than end-product oriented and therefore, open-ended play provides a stress-free zone for fun!

There are many other benefits to open-ended play—cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally. One aspect within the emotional developmental area concerns self-regulation or the ability to control one’s emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and self-discipline. These are often areas where ADHD kids can struggle.
Toys have, or not, “play value”. Open-ended toys are the ingredients for open-ended play. Wooden blocks are the classic example of open-ended toys. Blocks have no, one right way to be put together. Blocks can be played with differently each time, guided by a child’s imagination. Because they are free to choose and create as the like, they develop confidence and competence.

Open-ended toys allow for rich, dynamic and complex play to happen. For example, they can experiment, test, and evaluate different placements of blocks giving them concrete, hands-on scientific experience of the effects of gravity—something they’ll understand on a visceral level. Playing with blocks develops fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, and persistence in placing the blocks ‘just so’. Playing with blocks, and other open-ended toys, requires effort on the part of the child. They’re not passive, but active participants in their play…and it’s meaningful play.
For more toy suggestions see Play & Specific Needs



About the author: Karen Whittier, Toy Curator & Play Specialist for Rent the ToyChest has a passion for the early childhood years. She co-founded and taught at Red Gate Preschool for many, many years. A key characteristic of the school was promoting learning through child-directed, hands-on activities—in other words, play. With Rent the ToyChest, Teacher Karen is serving families and children in a different way—delivering play via online toy rentals. Play is the way young children are meant to learn about themselves, others and the world around them. Rent the ToyChest makes playing easier, convenient, affordable plus it’s eco-friendly!

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