How to Make Routines More Playful

Add playfulness to your family routines!

Life as the parent or caregiver of a young child can be hectic. From feeding and bathing to transportation and education, every day is packed with different responsibilities, tasks, and opportunities. Because of that, routines play a vital role in caring for a child. However, have you considered how playful your routines are?

Why is play important?

Your family likely participates in several routines throughout the day whether you know it or not. Tasks such as waking up, going to sleep, and even eating breakfast require a list of steps that need to be followed. While completing those steps is important, it is equally important to ask yourself, “Are these interactions developmentally appropriate for my child.”

As you know, children thrive when they have opportunities to play. In fact, play is the primary way that children learn important cognitive, physical, social, and emotional skills. Adding play into your daily routines is not only developmentally appropriate, but it also supports your child’s long-term success and well-being. For tips on how to make routines more playful, continue reading below.

How does play fit into my routines?

When you think of the word “play”, what do you imagine? Do you imagine your child sitting on the floor with toys, running around the yard, or taking turns during a game? While all of those moments certainly are play, you can actually incorporate playful moments into every part of your daily routine, including things like:

    • bath time or hygiene-oriented tasks,
    • dressing and undressing,
    • grocery shopping,
    • cooking,
    • cleaning, and
    • traveling from one place to another.

Any time is the perfect time for play, and you can support your child’s growth and development by adding unscripted, child-led moments of play into your family life.

How can I make my routines more playful?

Consider using the following strategies to make your routines more playful:

1. Challenge your child to get from one place to another in creative ways.

    • Challenge them to move like a certain animal, hop on one leg, roll, walk in slow motion, run as fast as they can, or create their very own movement!

2. Turn dressing into a fashion show by adding music and asking them to walk the runway once they are dressed.

    • Describe their outfit in a fun way as they walk, and even try walking the runway yourself!

3. When you are asking your child to do something, sing it to them instead.

    • Try different tones, pitches, speeds, volume levels, and more to make it interesting or funny.

4. Try out something new during bath time.

    • Use your child’s wet, soapy hair to give them a cool or funny new hairstyle. Give them a mirror so they can see it themselves!
    • Create a playlist of your child’s favorite sing-along songs and host your own bath time musical! You can even bring in prop toys for an extra effect.
    • Try dimming the lights and adding flameless candles for a relaxing change of scenery. You can even add calming music!
    • Have your own spa day! Add bubbles to the bath, give each other facials or massages, do each other’s nails, make cucumber water, and relax! You can also find child-safe bath bombs and fizzies to add to the water.
    • Get washable bathtub finger paint and let your child’s imagination run free!
    • Bring in different waterproof items (or items that you do not mind getting wet) and let your child experiment by dropping them in the water! Do they sink or float? How fast do they move through the water? What would happen if they dropped it from higher up or lower down?.

5. Make grocery shopping more fun and engaging!

    • Play I-Spy and see who can find something first!
    • Talk with your child about what they see, hear, smell, feel, or taste.
    • Tell stories as you go. Start with an opening line of “Once upon a time. . .” or “Long, long ago . . .” and have your child fill in the blanks! Continue the story with “then what happened?” or other prompting questions.
    • Have your child sound out different words they see.
    • Assign your child to coupon duty! Cut out your coupons in advance and ask them to look around for the items as you go.
    • Set a budget and work with your child to find the best deals! If your child is older, you could even have them add up the prices as you go to see if you are under or over budget.

6. Invite your child to cook or bake with you.

    • Ask your child if they would be your sous chef, aka second in command.
    • Dress up as chefs or put on your special aprons!
    • Assign your sous chef developmentally appropriate tasks such as cracking an egg into the bowl, mixing, measuring, counting, pouring, and more!
    • Do not be afraid to make a mess. See how a flour handprint would look on a shirt or hand towel. Let your child decorate or arrange the food on the plate!

7. Turn chores into challenges!

    • Set a timer and challenge your child to finish the task before time is up. Or sing a familiar song for the same effect!
    • Make chores more fun by adding handheld objects like tongs, spatulas, or oven mitts. Challenge them to complete the task using only those items!
    • Hide a stuffed animal in a pile of laundry and see who can find it first. But you have to fold the laundry as you go! Or make a sock puppet who assigns funny tasks or tries to match the wrong socks together.
    • Host a scavenger hunt by making a list of items that need to be collected/picked up.
    • Put on music during the chore. Every time the music stops, everyone has to freeze! Whoever moves first has to do two push-ups or pick up two items!

8. Talk with your child to brainstorm other fun ways your family can be more playful.

Learn More

For more information, see the following resources:


Girl on playground plays with block while smiling

Series Navigation

The Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series highlights several early childhood topics to support parents and caregivers who are caring for young children. Use the list below to navigate through each series topic:

Learn more about the series.

Request free printed materials from our Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series.


Picture: A young baby looks up at the camera.
Line separator