play at

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Related to play at: Play Dough

play at (doing something)

To do or partake in something with halfhearted or minimal effort. Quit playing at cleaning the car and just do it! Each day I dutifully sit down at my desk, coffee in hand, but I only play at writing—I haven't been able to write anything substantive in months.
See also: play
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2022 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

play at something

to pretend to be doing something. You are not fixing the car, you are just playing at repair work! Stop playing at doing the dishes and get the job done.
See also: play
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

play at

Do or take part in half-heartedly, as in She was just playing at keeping house, letting the others do all the work. [Mid-1800s]
See also: play
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

play at

1. To pretend to be or to do something for amusement or out of curiosity: He was just playing at being a cowboy.
2. To do or take part in something halfheartedly: You're playing at your work and not taking it seriously enough.
See also: play
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs. Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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References in periodicals archive ?
Play in a school setting differs from play at home along several dimensions: interaction with peers, group size, materials and equipment, guidance and supervision, adult-child interactions, time commitments, organized planning and space availability.
Group size is another difference between play at home and at school.
Play at home is often "free," in the sense that parents say "go play." Free play contributes much to a child's growth and development.
Not all play at school must be oriented toward a specific goal, but teachers usually plan for concept development in a way that guides the selection of play experiences.
The teacher's role is an important element when explaining the value of play at school.
Often, children play at home when the parent is busy doing something else; their play may consist of watching television or idly roaming around the house or yard.
Play at home frequently takes place in snatches of time that are not as productive as longer play periods.