If you want your child at a level of full participation, then you need to be at a level of full participation.
Your child comes completely prepared to absorb the wonderful benefits of play time. You, on the other hand, have complicated responsibilities, numerous friends, financial concerns, etc. Listen: put that aside. Turn off your cell phone; turn off the television; don't answer your land line, don't blast music.
Whether it's for a total of four hours a day, or half an hour a day, make playtime a world. Your child will ‘fall into’ an activity if you allow her. That means you're right there-gentle, patient, interested. It doesn't take any special resources to make this happen. Just participate. Don't allow interruptions. Generally speaking, from your child's perspective something is an interruption if it interrupts your participation. So if the neighbor's dog is barking, ignore it. If the phone rings, ignore it. If you have to answer it, then go ahead. It's not the end of the world. But if you make a habit of multi-tasking during play time, you'll see your child's attention span getting shorter and shorter.
On the other hand, one of the great benefits of uninterrupted playtime is the expansion your child's attention span and ability to stay focused. Your child is interested and stays interested because she is exploring something. She's figuring it out. She's making connections and advancing her understanding. Not only is her proficiency at absorbing and re-arranging concepts accelerated. She's also forming the habit of learning something completely. Those are powerful factors in terms of your child's ability to learn. Give your child a capacity for learning that cannot be achieved in any other way. Set aside some part of every day for uninterrupted play time.
Anthony Vecchioni runs http://spaghettiboxkids.com -a parenting site that offers specific strategies, tips and activities to enhance child learning. Read more about Anthony Vecchioni.