As a playful and fun-loving adult, I believe wholeheartedly in the benefits of play. I see children every day who are desperate to explore their world through play and to have the adults in their life share in their fun. You are, however, exhausted and drained, I get it, and the last thing you often feel like doing is getting on the floor when the alternative is a few moments of peace on the couch. But I subscribe to the notion of quality, not quantity, and know that there are plenty of options for play that promote both your child's independence and their connection with you.
Play can be any activity that is voluntary, spontaneous and pleasurable undertaken with a playful frame of mind. For me, it's taking my dog to the beach, putting on the tunes to have a sing or a boog, or cracking out my favourite board game (Squatter anyone?!).
For children, however, it is more than this. It is the key platform for how they learn about themselves, others and the world around them. If you think play is purely hitting up the playground or engaging in a spot of kick-to-kick, then think again. It is any activity done for its own sake, with a focus on the journey, rather than the outcome.
Painting, puzzles, creating, exploring, dress-ups, kicking a ball, climbing, building with blocks, dancing and singing, chasing balloons, running under a sprinkler, or pretending to be a cook in a kitchen or a doctor treating a patient. Play can involve the imagination, cooperation, solitude, looking on, working side-by-side, expression and socialisation. Don't worry about the ages associated with each type of play, just join them where they are.
Play helps children to:
Develop physical skills
Learn about caring for others and the environment
Feel loved, happy and safe,
Develop and practice their social skills, language and communication
Connect and refine important pathways in the brain
Furthermore, allowing children to play, innovate and create reduces the dependence on screens for entertainment. There's no doubt that screens present a unique challenge for parents. (Check out Dr Kristy Goodwin's work for advice on facilitating less screen time and more green time.)
Above all, just remember that you are your child's first and best playmate.
Ideas for play at home:
Make an obstacle course using cardboard boxes, hula hoops, toy ladders, masking tape and streamers. Takes a lot of time and burns a lot of energy = win-win!
Build a fort using blankets, sheets, chairs. Bring out the torches, favourite teddies and have a "camp-out"!
Collect box construction materials, such as toilet rolls, cardboard, milk and egg cartons, cereal boxes, etc plus some textas, scissors and masking tape and let your child make whatever they want. There is no outcome or goal to this activity but it facilitates STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) thinking skills such as problem solving, innovation and resourcefulness.
Put on some music, get the kids to dress up, turn off the lights and have a dance party!
Grab the chalk and head out to the pavement to do some chalk drawing. Give them access to some water to wash away their work and start again.
Make your own playdough (excellent recipe here), add some peppermint oil for extra sensory benefit and collect some natural materials. Kids love to use leaves, gum nuts and sticks to create a home for their animal figurines!
Give the kids a window of time, some materials and get them to come up with their own idea! I highly encourage you to let your children experience boredom and to come up with their own ideas for play and filling their time. That's what I remember about being a kid and some of my best memories are from when my brother and I made something from nothing.
And when in doubt, Pinterest has all our play suggestions covered...