Drop Everything and Play!

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The stuffed animals went to school today. They went to stuffed animal school, anyway. The bad news is that my kids are home sick (tis the season). The good news is that they’re home sick together so they can play in between coughs and sneezes.

They spent the better part of the morning setting up the school. They started with the physical space. After much thoughtful consideration, they settled on the hallway space between their bedrooms as the ideal place to build a school. They gathered school supplies, determined a schedule (including extra time for snacks, recess and lunch – you can draw your own conclusions on that one), made important decisions about who would teach what and raided the toy kitchen for food items to keep in the cafeteria. They even discussed the ideal teaching style and agreed on a strict NO HOMEWORK policy.

After what amounted to at least two hours of set up, they took a much needed break for lunch and rest. We read together, watched a show together and played a board game. Then they got back to business. By the afternoon, they began the playing part of the play.

This kind of “high level play”, play that contains sustained play themes and involves multiple roles and symbolic use of props, requires time. Today my kids had the time because they were home sick, but most days they find the time because we refuse to over schedule in this house. Childhood is short – we choose to play.

As both a psychotherapist and a mother, I have seen firsthand the clear benefits of making time for unstructured play.

The best news is that you don’t need a bunch of props and fancy toys to encourage this kind of play. In fact, most kids prefer to create their own props. In doing so, the prop becomes exactly what they want it to be and they can manipulate it to meet their needs. This is why cardboard boxes are such a huge hit for kids. They like to take control and create their own fun.

In fact, Eastern Connecticut State University’s Child Development Center just named the wooden cash register by Hape Toys the 2015 Toys that Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination selection. After studying preschoolers at play in their classrooms with a selection of toys for one year, they found that the kids were drawn to the wooden cash register over toys with more bells and whistles.

It makes sense. With the wooden cash register, kids can manipulate it as needed. It can be used for a store or to check out books for a library. The possibilities are endless when the children use the toy on their own terms.

What’s the big deal about high level play?

We know that play is the language of children and that kids learn, communicate and grow through play. But we have a tendency to push structured activities the moment kids enter elementary school.

When I speak to groups of parents I hear the same question over and over again: What is so different? Why are kids more stressed today than they were twenty years ago. While there are multiple reasons for increased levels of stress and anxiety in children and each child has their own triggers and circumstances, I can tell you this: Kids today are play deprived.

Kids are doing a lot of things from preschool on, but what they aren’t doing enough of is the very thing that will help them thrive. We simply aren’t making enough time for play in this busy, go go go world.

Benefits of high level play:

  • Stress relief – kids work through their emotions by playing.
  • Emotional regulation – kids learn to identify and regulate their emotions through play.
  • Exploration of passions – they figure out what makes them tick.
  • Increased social skills.
  • Improved communication skills.
  • Increased creativity and creative thinking.
  • Improved problem solving skills.
  • They connect with friends, siblings and caregivers on a deeper level.
  • Try on new roles and make sense of the world around them.
  • Cope with and overcome fears and worries.

I could go on and on and on…the benefits of play are many. Stand back and watch your kids play for an hour and you’ll see your own benefits – unique to your own child. That’s the wonderful thing about play. When kids tap into high level imaginative play, they work through their own unique needs at the moment.

When is my child too old for unstructured play?

Never! I see eleven-year-old kids working through difficult emotions and stressful situations through play. I see teens let go of their insecurities simply by getting down on the floor and playing! I’ve seen adults learn to let go of their own stress by engaging in unstructured play with their kids. Truly, the power of play knows no age restrictions.

I know that it’s tempting to try every sport and enroll in every enrichment program that comes your way, but the truth is that kids don’t need constant adult direction. They time to figure things out on their own. If we don’t give them the opportunity to work through various situations independently and in a way that makes sense to them, how can we expect them to act as problem solvers out in the world? How can we expect them to gain independence?

Drop everything and play this holiday season. Your kids need it. The truth is…you probably do, too.

For more information on the healing power of play and how to encourage a playful environment, pick up your copy of The Happy Kid Handbook today.

Parenting Articles on Momtastic

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I’ve been so busy freelancing everywhere else that I haven’t taken the time to share everything here.  Many of you email me or look me up on Facebook to ask advice on specific topics, and I cover most of those topics on other sites.

I recently joined the writing team at Momtastic.  They have great parenting content over there.  Please check out the following articles published there (if any of them are of interest to you).  I’ll see you over there!

5 Secrets to Raising a Kid With Excellent Anger Management Skills

Why Play-Based Learning in Kindergarten Is So Important (Favorite article in a while!)

8 Surprising Signs Your Kid Is Addicted to His iPad (Don’t let the title scare you…)

Why No Good Can Come From Pushing Kids to be Early Readers

And…

How to Teach Your Kids About Strangers Without Using Crazy Scare Tactics (Important!)

Lesson learned:  Update more often.

Play More, Stress Less

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When I was in college, I spent a glorious summer on the North Shore of Boston as a live-in nanny.  The job was easy and fun.  I loved playing with the three kids, aged 9, 7, and 5, both at home and at their country club swimming pool.  At age 19, I truly enjoyed being around kids, and it was a great gig for me to be working on my tan while keeping them happy and entertained while their mom was able to play golf or tennis.  I recall thinking, however, that it was too bad for the kids that they didn’t get to play with their own mom.  If she happened to be around, they would call for her to watch them, interrupting her conversation with the other club moms on the lounge chairs poolside.  She would pay attention on occasion, but more often than not, I stepped in with the attention.  After all, that was my job!

 

Now that I am a mom of kids the exact same age this summer, it is interesting to see how times have changed.  I am now the mom sitting by the pool sunbathing and chatting with friends, while my kids are calling for me to “Look, look!” and begging for me to jump in with them.  Most of the time, I don’t.  I am dying for a break, a chance to chill and enjoy the fact that they are occupied in the pool.  But sometimes, I take the plunge.  I forget about the fact that I’ll have to redo my hair, or that I’ll be cold, or whatever the concern might be.  I take the risk to just have fun, to play.  And boy do they respond.

 

My girlfriend who was hanging here with me did the same thing the other day, bringing pure joy to her kids’ spirits, and it made me think about what we as moms need to do so that we can be ready to jump in and play with our kids.

 

Make Time for Yourself

Face it, if you have children, you won’t have time to yourself unless you make it happen.  You need to figure out when and how it can happen, and make sure it does.  Whether it’s a coffee date with a friend, a manicure, or even just alone time with a good book while the hubby does the bedtime routine, you need to do this for yourself.

 

Know What Matters Most to Your Kids

For my kids, it’s time with mom in the pool. What is it that your kids desire to do with you?  Some recreational activities kids seem fine to do alone, but for others they are just yearning to do it in relationship with Mom or Dad; it all depends on the individual child, their interests and hobbies, and what matters most to them.  Discovering what type of quality time your child values most is the key to maximizing your quality time together.

 

Just Jump In

Once you have figured out what it is your child is craving, and you’ve met your own needs (even if it’s just a small bit–be honest), it’s time to take the plunge.  Put down your work, forget about the call you were about to make, the dishes that need to be done.  These things can wait.  Time with your precious child simply won’t.  You will never regret the moments you carve out to spend time with the ones you truly love, and chances are, you will end up enjoying it as much as them!

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Splashing in Puddles

Life is simple when you’re young.

Stop and take a cue from your children today.

You won’t regret it.

And please stop by moonfrye to read more about Splashing in Puddles.

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