Making play easier for you and your kiddos!
"Mama, Trains? .....Trains!"
We know that play has all sorts of benefits for our kiddos, and when we play with our children, it increases those social emotional benefits for them and builds the relationship between the two of us... BUT WHEN and HOW and WITH WHAT TIME?
Also... it's exhausting to pretend to be a cheetah princess FOR HOURS!
So let's talk about taking the pressure off. Let's talk about how to build in predictable play with our kiddos
how to teach our children to play independently. The balance makes a world of difference!
Why Take Time To Play?
Research tells us about the multitude of important skills children build through play (nearly all of them). At grOH!, we firmly believe that it is our responsibility as parents and caregivers to prioritize a child's need to play - to give them the space, inspiration, and time to do so. We believe this so strongly that we put it right up with the responsibility we have to take care of our children's physical needs - bathing, diapering, feeding etc. These needs take care of our children's physical self and health. Encouraging and fostering play takes care of our children's social, emotional, intellectual, and physical well being...pretty important.
This is a mindset shift. If we place greater importance on play, it may become a little easier to create a some time - even 5 minutes - in our schedules to ensure our kids are playing.
With What Time? Remember these 4 important things about play and your kids.
So, we are on the same page... play is critical BUT with our busy schedules it can be challenging... and, sometimes, feel impossible to make time to play with our kids.
1. Balance independent/ free and adult guided play.
It is important to build a balance between independent/free play and guided play. Guided play is when an adult plays with a child, offering up ideas, materials, and models language and skills but follows and respects a child's lead (if they want to stop playing buses and play dinosaurs instead, well... that bus is now a cool new dino-transit system). Independent play is when kiddos are completely playing by themselves (sounds glorious right?)
The idea of carving out that time to play WITH your kids is hard .... not to mention teaching your kiddo to play by themselves... so, its all hard.
But there is , good news, the more regularly you offer up guided play with your kids, the more play skills they build, play ideas they develop, AND the more likely they are to sustain independent play.
Essentially, every time you play WITH them... you are giving them ideas about how to play by themselves later
2. Play for just 5 minutes!
Children do not need you to play with them for extended periods of time to get the benefits of guided play
If you have 20 minutes to play, great! If you only have 5 minutes to play with your kiddos, that is a beautiful thing, too! It sets them up to continue the play by themselves so you can be a bit more hands off. They will have more productive play if you help them get started with purposeful and novel play ideas!
3. Make play a routine
Make both independent play and guided play a part of your routine. Once it becomes something that children expect, they will become more fluent and need less guidance from you!
4. Have a plan
As counterintuitive as it seems, one of the best ways to make time for your young child's play is by having a little bit of a plan. There's nothing more challenging (or extremely stressful!) than trying to come up with play that will hold your child's attention while you're in the middle of cooking dinner.
Take a little bit of time on your way home from work, on the weekend, or by using some of our resources to develop a plan. Just knowing what you are going to do with your kiddos while they are in your care and looking to you for play ideas and... let's face it... entertainment, alleviates a lot of mental work and weight!
Giving yourself this plan will give you a breather AND give your kiddo something to look forward to.
What are the Logistics? 4 ways to make it work in your day
There are a couple of ways to set aside time in your day for your kiddos to play.
1. Ask your nanny or Au-Pair to make time for diverse and guided play during the day.
Provide her with rich activities and plans to play throughout the week! It is an amazing way to ensure that rich play and learning is happening. When you work with a caregiver and give her play activities to do with your kiddo(s), it becomes an easy follow up around the exact activity they did during the day. You can then follow up with the same activity later that day or another time during the week/weekend. Because kiddos have seen it once before, they will feel even more successful and confident time playing it again with you.
Additionally, repeating activities and playing on the same topic helps children develop a more complex understanding of the activity and the world around them.
2. Right before and during meal prep and cooking
I like to do our guided play during dinner preparation. I get my son started with play - spend 5-10 minutes playing with him (feel like an awesome mom while doing it) then step away to work on dinner. As I can, I pop back in and out of his play or help support him if he gets stuck. We are building both guided play skills and independent play skills at the same time!
3. Right before bed
We reserve 10 minutes after teeth brushing and pjs for some play time. We use this as independent play time, but it could easily be guided play as well! There is a hidden benefit to building in some play time right before bed - starting the bedtime routine is something kiddos can look forward to because they know there will be some play built in. YES!
hint: Just be sure to set a timer for 10 minutes, once the timer goes off, stick firmly to your boundaries and do not extend playtime. Use a timer in this way throughout the day so children get used to it as a transition marker.
4. First thing in the morning... especially if you have an early riser!
To our dismay, many children are ready to go bright and early. This is a great time to spend 5-20 minutes playing with them while enjoying your coffee. Their brains are ready to make awesome connections and use their rich imaginations. The morning time is also a great time to set up some independent play routines. Hello quiet morning coffee!
5. Use The Weekends
Take advantage of the longer stretches of time you have with your kiddo. Get out into the community and play out and about! It will feel great for both of you!
We believe that providing your child with playtime every day is equally as critical as taking care of their physical needs - like diapering and bathing because it takes care of them emotionally, socially, intellectually and physically. It helps us develop the whole child.
To make it work, you have to prioritize play, making it a part of your routine.
It is also important to have a realistic view about play... sometimes when we have high expectations for ourselves and fail to meet them - that parent guilt creeps in... and this is the last thing we want!
Sometimes life happens and play time doesn't, AND sometimes kids just are not feeling it!
We have to give ourselves permission to take the parenting wins when great play happens... and dismiss all guilt when it doesn't!