Play With Me: Purposeful Work [Part 1]

By: Shannon Mallery, Program Assistant Sr.- Mature Adults

COVID-19 has brought many challenges with it, but it has also given us time to reflect and to reach out to those we value in our lives. Right now, we want to keep up with loved ones more than ever, but it can also be more challenging than ever!

While many people may be familiar with using technology to find out information, shop, or even stay connected to friends and family, they might not be used to relying on technology to have meaningful interactions with loved ones.

Connecting on a personal level over technology can be challenging with any age group but can be especially challenging with young children. So how can you stay connected and grow your relationships with the young ones in your life during periods of social distancing?

Durham Parks and Recreation (DPR) has developed a series called Play With Me that will teach you activities that you can do with young children ages two to five over technology that will provide meaningful ways to engage and keep their attention.

The first three Play With Me activities will focus on play through purposeful work. Purposeful work play focuses on simple everyday activities that are interesting and challenging for children. The first activity is sorting.

Here is a document of Tips for Virtual Communication that you can review, specifically related to this Play With Me series. If you need assistance or have any questions, please contact Shannon Mallery at Shannon.Mallery@DurhamNC.Gov.

Activity #1 - Sorting

These activities are designed for children between the ages of 2 and 5 years old. Before getting started, parental assistance will be needed to help collect and setup supplies. Consider sending the supplies list ahead of time so the parent can prepare in advance. Also keep in mind, it is most ideal for you and the child to have the same set of supplies.


  • Find a tray or an item with four sections. 
  • Mark each section with a color. I used blue, yellow, green and red.
  • Find some objects around your home that are the four colors on the tray. Get at least four items for each color. I like to use objects with different textures such as bumpy or smooth and made of different materials like rubber, wood, metal, etc. 
  • Put all of the items randomly on the table. Then place each item one by one in the coordinating spot on the tray. 
Let’s Play
  • Do the activity first so that the child can see what you are doing.
  • Once you have finished ask the child to do what you did.
  • Once you are both done you can talk with the child about the activity. Ask them:
  •      o What did they like/not like?
         o What did they find easy/hard?
         o What differences did they notice about the objects being used?
         o How did the objects feel, look, or smell different (rubber band vs. crayon, etc.)?
         o What objects would they have chosen to use and why?

Make it easier!
For very young children you can do an easier version of this activity where you use all of the same objects just in different colors; like pom-poms. This way the child only has to concentrate on the color of the object and does not have to worry about what the object is when deciding where to place it.

Up for a challenge?
For a more challenging version you can have the child pick up the objects they are sorting with tongs or have objects in variations of the colors. For example, for blue you could have objects in light blue, dark blue, navy blue, and teal. The child will have to first determine the color family the object belongs to and then place the object into the correct color section.

Sorting is fun and challenging for children and I am sure they will love to talk with you all about it!

Thanks for participating and we hope you are able to have meaningful virtual conversations with the loved ones in your life. Stay tuned for another blog post next week that continues the Play With Me: Purposeful Work series!