Put Away the Screens and Play Together!

TRUCE Family Play Plans for Summer

Diane Levin, Blakely Bundy | June 2017

Article Banner_Family Play Plan

Summertime is the perfect time for families to get outside and play. Splashing in water on a hot day. Digging in cool, slippery mud. Chalking up a sidewalk or driveway with hopscotch games or original drawings. Planting a simple garden. What child can resist such fun activities, especially when joined by siblings, parents, or even grandparents, and sometimes friends too?

But, sadly, nowadays many families seem less and less to be playing together. Busy schedules leave little time for play and little time to be together as a family. In addition, screen-based entertainment is a constant distraction. Children need to learn again how to become engaged in simple games and outdoor play after the rapid fire zap, zap, zap they get from screen activities. However, today’s parents may not have had opportunities to play when they were growing up so may not be familiar with simple games and pastimes to introduce to their own children.

For these reasons, TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment), created a set of Family Play Plans to give parents some simple ideas for seasonal family activities. All the suggested activities use inexpensive or free materials that are readily available such as sand, water, cardboard, bubbles, or string. Unlike specialized toys, open-ended materials like these offer endless opportunities for rich, creative, and on-going play. The ideas can be expanded and developed depending on family member’s abilities and interests.

The TRUCE Family Play Plans are fun and engaging for children, but also provide opportunities for them to learn skills such as cooperation, turn taking, and problem-solving. Parents or caregivers can add to the value of the play by getting involved, as needed, and talking about what children are doing. Most of all, the fun of playing together as a family will create powerful and lasting memories. So put away those screens and get playing! Happy summer!

Water is a simple, everyday material which can be turned into endless hours of creative family play, especially during the hot days of summer. For example, children love “painting” with water. Fill a small bucket with water and provide paint brushes or rollers. The water darkens the surface temporarily and makes it look like a fresh coat of paint.

Other ideas included in the TRUCE plan include a “toy car wash” and water-based game ideas such as “Dribble, Dribble, Drench” (a variation of “Duck, Duck, Goose”), and Water Balloon Catch. More water activities...

Family PlayWater

“Painting” with water

Mud offers endless opportunities for constructive and fun family play. Playing with mud—a free, open-ended material—can offer a deeper, more creative play experience than many of the expensive, one-purpose toys you can buy. In addition, mud is almost universally available. Got dirt? Just add water!

What can you do with mud? Make mud handprints on heavy paper or on the sidewalk. Add glitter for “fancy mud” play. Set up a “mud kitchen” outdoors, complete with pots, pans, bowls, and spoons—a perfect place to make “mud pies!” More mud activities…

Family PlayMud 3

A simple mud kitchen offers hours of creative play for all ages

A box or two of chalk can provide hours of family fun. Children can experiment with chalk pieces of different sizes—fat and thin, long and short. Draw roads on the sidewalk for toy cars and trucks. Create a “hopscotch” jumping game board, or a giant checker board. Use colored paper plates as the “checkers.” Wet a piece of paper with water and then draw on it with chalk. What happens? More chalk activities…

Family Playchalk

A box of chalk and a sidewalk can provide entertainment for the whole family.

Visit the TRUCE website ( for all 12 Family Play Plans and many other TRUCE play, media, and toy guides. They are free of charge and can be downloaded, reprinted, and shared easily, without special permission.

Advocating for Young Children, Family Engagement, All Ages