I am passionate about engagement, about the relationship and bond between caregivers and their little ones. It’s about the connection between these ‘play partners’. But let’s be honest, we moms are always on the lookout for new toys that will capture our children’s attention and buy us a little time.
If your home is anything like mine, there is baby paraphernalia and toddler toys EVERYWHERE. Despite trying very hard to keep toys contained in neatly labelled tubs (which I spend my life re-organising the contents of!), they always seem to migrate into every other room in the house. Many of us even have designated playrooms – an entire room to house the ever increasing toy collection. There is even a market for toy rental companies that work like a toy library – genius!
Last week my son had a friend to play and they proceeded to open and empty every single basket/tub/box/bag/container of toys and puzzles in the playroom while having enormous amounts of fun and not a second of thought about the huge mess they were creating or how long it was going to take us (them included) to tidy up! Oh to be so carefree! Not surprisingly, they didn’t really play with any of the toys – the game was the activity of unpacking!
I looked around the room and the two little boys were nowhere to be seen. Of course not, they had moved on. Making mud together using their water bottles and the flowerbed soil was much more fun – they spent ages doing just this. Much longer than they had with any of the conventional toys we had.
It got me thinking about our room full of toys. Was I choosing toys that were my preference? Ones that appealed to me? Those with an educational aspect? Ones that looked impressive? Ones that focussed on specific skills that I wanted my little boy to focus on? Meanwhile, all my little boy wants to do is play with someone – be it me or daddy or his nanny or friend. Someone who will enter into his little world. That’s when he is his happiest there is no doubt about that. I try as much as possible (lets be reasonable here!) to keep reminding myself time spent with my little boy is what he would really love more than anything.
Having said that many of us find it awkward to get down to their level and play with our little ones. We don’t know how to. We feel silly and even awkward to relax completely and to have fun in this way.
It was George Bernard Shaw who said: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” There are numerous benefits of play to people of ALL ages. ‘Play’ gets those endorphins going (which improves your overall wellbeing), fuels creativity, sparks imagination, and promotes relaxation – irrespective of your age.
Here are some practical and helpful tips to encourage play:
Establish regular play times. It may be for twenty minutes before dinner every night or every Saturday morning, for example. Remember, this time spent playing together is benefiting both of you.
Give your child your undivided attention. Turn off the TV and your cellphone and make the time to play with your child without distraction. Having your undivided attention makes your child feel special.
Get down to your child's level. That may mean getting down on your knees or sitting on the floor. Match your child's intensity during play—if your child is loud and energetic, be loud and energetic, too.
Embrace repetition. It may be boring to you, but it's not to your child. Children learn through repetition. Let your child play the same game over and over. Your child will move on when he or she is ready.
Let your children take the lead. Become part of their game rather than trying to dictate the play. In pretend play, let your child call the shots, make the rules, and determine the pace of play. Ask questions and follow along—you'll likely get drawn into imaginative new worlds that are fun for you, too.
Don't force play or try to prolong a game. The best way to teach a new skill is to show children how something works, then step back and give them a chance to try. When your child is tired of an activity, it's time to move on to something new.
Make play age-appropriate and consider safety. If a game is too hard or too easy, it loses its sense of pleasure and fun. Help your child find age-appropriate activities and understand any safety rules for play. Nothing ruins a fun game faster than a child getting hurt.
(Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Jennifer Shubin)
So put down that cellphone, kick off those heels and get down on the ground with your child!