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Happy Endings

Managing Playtime


By Gill Connell

When a child enters into a deep state of play, they’re in charge of what's real and what's important. Time stands still as the reality of our world melts away in favor of their own, far more vibrant, and yes, REAL, reality. This is where they are laying down the foundations for future learning by figuring out for themselves how they learn best.


Play Interruptus

Respecting play means giving children the time and space they need to enter into that deep, rich, imaginative state, as much as possible and for as long as possible. That said, time does not always stand still for grown-ups, and sometimes it's necessary to interrupt or stop the play.


Enter the fuss. And the more fun they’re having, the bigger the fuss.


So, in the hopes of helping you navigate the tantrum-filled waters of "It's time to stop," here are a few happy ending strategies I’ve found work pretty well...

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Have something you know your child likes at the ready like a favorite book or toy.



Create your own transitional ritual. For instance, I keep a magic wand in the closet. When it’s time to change things up, I bring it out and cast a spell. Our wand is called Magic-Magic...


Magic-Magic Wand so true.

What's the next fun thing to do?

Hug three times and clap your hands.

The fun will always be so grand,

When you...(FILL IN THE BLANK.)


Be Prepared

Set up ground rules for stopping BEFORE you begin. For younger children, set a timer and explain when the bell goes off, the game is done. For older children, establish the number of turns they get before you start.


When you're getting close to the end be sure to prepare them. "Time will be up soon" or "Two more turns each," is often enough to lessen the disappointment of fun coming to an end.

Choices = Empowerment

When you can, offer the child choices of what to do after the fun is done. "When we finish our game, you can have a snack or we can read a story. Which would you like to do?" This empowers them. Be sure to honor their choice.


For older children, it's always great to make them think stopping is their idea. Set it up in their minds in simple ways that get them thinking. "I wonder what we'll do after this?" Discuss the options and make sure it's a conversation and collaboration between the two of you.

The Big Finish

Play should always be fun and end on a high note. But once in a while, it can go on too long and start to drag. If you're sensing this, create a "big finish" to the game. Ramp up the energy level with your voice and actions. Add new intensity to the last minutes of the game by speeding it up or adding a silly twist. Create a big finish! "Ta-Da!" "Hooray!" "You Did It!"

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Be sure to celebrate the play once it's done. Encourage them to retell the tales of their play. Listen intently. Ask questions. Explore it fully with them. Have them re-enact it for you or draw a picture of what happened. In other words, celebrate the play!


Not only will post-play celebrations reinforce the ideas they explored, your interest in their play will encourage them to play and explore even more.


And that, is the very best ending of all.

Airplane Swoop

When its clean-up time, play Airplane Swoop. Hold your child so they are ‘flying’ – face down, supported under their chest and hips. Slowly lower them toward the toys scattered on the floor and have them pick any toy within reach, dropping it into the toy box. For a challenge, call “left hand” or “right hand” as you swoop them down for another toy.

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...and it doesn't look like learning. 


Learning to finish what you start is an important readiness skill.


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Leveling the play for fun and development.


And there's more...

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