Play is play is play. A simple matter, it involveschildren improvising around anything to hand.

There can't be many parents, for instance, who haven't felt irritation and amusement in equal measures on seeing their children reject an expensive present in favour of its box, squiggly ribbon and glossy paper, which provides scope for building a car, a robot or even a phone box for Clark Kent to emerge from as Superman.

And yet that kind of improvisation is not really simple behind it, you will usually find a talented adult, prompting and suggesting.

That is the strength of the after-school club your child might attend.

Yes, your children will be role-playing, climbing, playing board-games, practising computer skills or curling up with a book.

But that alone is rarely enough for children still developing their concentration.

Children love organised activities because of the security and structure they provide. Distinct from the usual learning process, these activities provide opportunities to acquire useful skills or insights.

They also offer an opportunity to shine in a non-academic environment and, as such, can raise self esteem.

Some clubs, for example, might try musical painting, which is modelled on musical chairs.

But instead of walking around a group of chairs and rushing to claim a seat, players start off in front of a large, blank piece of paper.

The music starts and everyone walks around the table.

When it stops, they start painting. The music starts again. Everyone stops painting and moves round.

What usually happens is that everyone is impelled by the novelty to paint something anything as the music stirs them.

The real challenge is coming to someone else's painting. What were they aiming for? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it an abstract expression of emotion?

Will my best friend be upset if I muck up her picture?

What happens is often unpredictable but frequently a stimulating experience for the children.

Not only does it prompt artistic creativity in the protected environment of play "It's only a game" but it encourages children to listen with concentration to music.

This makes it a particular challenge for the adult in charge, who can introduce the children to popular classical music.

As important, it can be used as a stimulus to discussion, even with small children.

For example, they might be encouraged to talk about how it felt to be faced with a blank piece of paper to fill with the clock running; how the music, particularly the tempo, affected the picture they contributed to; what pictures the music stimulated in their minds; what difference it made when familiar piece of music (perhaps from a television commercial) was played; how it felt taking over another's painting.

Yes, it is only a game but it is also a powerful way of exercising the brains, the imagination and fellow feeling.

And imagine what their parents said when each child took home a painting that a dozen children had contributed to.