Editor’s Note: Today I am welcoming Jennifer Landis from Mindfulness Mama to share tips on how to make the most of playtime–something I know I could use a little help with myself!
Playing with your kids is a whole lot more than dropping them off at Chuck E. Cheese’s or organizing a birthday party fit for the pope. Playtime – in its most natural form – is simply a collaborative interaction with your child, but that simple interaction is so crucial to their development. It’s more important than any singing or dancing mouse. No offense, Chuck.
Feeling pressured? Don’t. Here are seven strategies to make the most of playtime in your home:
#1 Relax the Structure
Sometimes playing can seem like just another thing to dump on the to-do list and check off. “Well … we went to the grocery store, vacuumed the floor, walked the dog and now we can have 15 minutes of playtime before we start dinner.”
When did this happen? When did fun become something that had to be scheduled? “Hold on, kids. You can’t start playing until the dog poops outside.” Wait, what? Now those 15 minutes of playtime become play demand times, where you try to convince yourself and your kids that Popsicle stick houses and glue sticks are worth their time and your effort.
This is too much. Too much trying and forcing fun moments to occur. Take a deep breath – in – and – out. Relax. Just let them play.
You are your kids’ greatest teacher, and as such, it’s time to lead by example. Don’t just sit on the sideline and watch others play. Show your little creators how to create. If they’re drawing a picture, draw one with them and show them how to appreciate the skills of their peers. That chicken that you’ve been drawing the same way for 20 years? Teach them how to make it, too, so it lasts forever – or finally try a new way of drawing it.
One of the greatest things to hear is, “Momma do it?” All those little babes want is to play with you and see you being playful, so get your creative juices flowing.
#3 Go Elemental
Refrigerator boxes. Period. There’s no need for expensive toys or electronic devices to encourage play. Get a refrigerator box and watch the imagination bulbs go off in your kids’ heads.
In fact, are you aware of just how large the U.S. toy industry is? $25 billion dollars is how much the toy industry takes in each year. Think of how many toys went untouched in your house this summer. Don’t buy more for the sake of having something new. Use what you’ve got and when that gets boring, hit the dirt for mud pies or grab a few spare boxes for your own derby car. Sometimes, having less is a good thing as it forces creative and playful moments.
#4 Add in the Arts
All right, “The Wheels on the Bus” can get a little annoying after a few times through, but bringing music, singing and dancing into your playtime “Mary Poppins” bag will keep your kids interested and can give them a fundamental appreciation for the arts as they continue to grow.
Really, there’s no reason why you can’t make up some of your own verses to liven up or replace the ones you can’t stand singing anymore. Substitute the main characters for your kids’ names and you may have something pretty funny.
#5 Reduce Screen Time
We are addicted to our screens. We check our phones, answering emails and send text messages every single day – more than twice the amount of times we think it’s happening. That’s what kids are seeing. If you want them to play more, make their surroundings conducive for imagination and playing – without electronics.
Reduce screen time in your house by setting up parameters that work for you and your family. Take the devices out of the room to resist temptations to check social media between activities.
#6 Have Other Kids Around
Playing alone can be OK, but having other kids around can teach your kids important skills, such as social interaction, sharing and accepting differences. Have your son or daughter invite a few friends over to kick a soccer ball around or explore the backyard.
Try not to feel like you need to entertain them. They may not know exactly what to do when their little friend shows up to play, but don’t feel as though you need to step in. Let them be awkward. Let them be weird. This is how they learn to be less awkward and weird as adults.
#7 Switch up the Location
Raise your hand if you get tired of being in one place for too long. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you would never leave your house if society found that to be socially acceptable. However, if you’re the type who can’t stand looking at a cubicle any longer or need to get out of the house for a mental break – and to avoid the growing pile of laundry – your kids probably feel the same. This is why recess is so incredibly important – both at school and at home.
The solution? Take playtime with you. Even the grocery store can be a fun place if you allow yourself to see it as such. Send the kids on grocery list scavenger hunts or see who can punt the toilet paper into the basket. Create a stacking contest where you see how high you can stack an item before it falls out of the cart. Sure, there are some downsides to these suggestions. You may not want to have 10 apples rolling down the aisle. The point is to bring play into ordinary tasks and take it with you on your errands.
Playtime is a great way to connect with your child and teach them how to interact with their peers, parents, and teachers. Reconnect with your own playful side and see how much more you are enjoying the world around you.
About the Author
Jennifer Landis is a twenty-something healthy living blogger, mother, wife, distance runner, yogi, and tea connoisseur. She enjoys clean eating, but also peanut butter ice cream. She writes about mindfulness, parenting, and clean eating on her blog, Mindfulness Mama. Follow her on twitter @JenniferELandis.
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