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So Many Ways to Play

Play is a crucial element to learning about the world, exploring relationships with self and others, and building physical and mental agility. Most of all, play is fun – and adults don’t do it enough!family with goggles swimmingPlay is natural and your child comes fully equipped for it. They don’t need special gizmos or gadgets to play, in fact, the less the better. When we step back and allow our child’s play to unfold, we can observe their innate wisdom and tenacity.

When we teach a child to do a task rather than let them play out the task, we actually circumvent what they will learn through their own trial-and-error. Janet Lansbury of Elevating Child Care shared this mom’s video which shows so well what happens when we allow our child to find their own way.

boy climbing

How do you play at your house?

Children [and adults] need the freedom and time to play.
Play is not a luxury. It is a necessity.
-Kay Redfield Jamison
Imaginative Play
My friend recently welcomed a new baby, and her 4 year-old was excited to be a big sister. Sister has an active imagination and she easily moved between wanting a bottle and to be swaddled like the baby and wanting to hold the baby and comfort him. Mom took all in stride, knowing sister was processing this new reality through her play. Her boundaries were that the bottle and ‘boppy’ stayed in the bedroom.   Soon, sister will take up her full role and she won’t need to imagine she is the baby.

Imaginative Play can also save the day when challenges arise. Child won’t eat? What if you play mice and nibble at your food? What if you pretend to be squirrels who are tidying their nest when it is time to clean the bedroom?

Narrative Play
Another aspect of play that often goes along with imaginative play, is narration the action. I’m moving this truck to the sand pit and then it is going up over the mountain and crashing into the water…complete with sound effects.

This becomes a familiar form of writing for many boys, too, as studied by Dr. Thomas Newkirk and reported in Misreading Masculinity. Boys, especially, seem to write mostly about adventure upon adventure without much character or plot development.

Active Play
For your sanity, you’ve got to have plenty – both indoors and out. Creating acceptable ways for kids to get their energy out is easier than you might think. Adding a mini-trampoline in your living room is a great outlet.

One dad told me that he watched his daughter diligently working on homework, then get up and jump 5 or 6 times, sit back down and easily re-focus.

Silent during dinner, a friend’s son would get on the mini-trampoline right after eating and start talking about his day. His moving facilitated his talking.

Other indoor options:

  • Hanging a disc swing from a ceiling joist
  • Chin-up bar that expands to fit in any door opening
  • Chin-up bar – add a long cloth and you’ve got a hammock that can be a swing, too
  • Bean bag chairs – more than one so they can be used for stacking, climbing, and sliding.

Boys may stretch the bounds of active play – going beyond limits that are comfortable for you (oh-over-cautious-one). Check in with dad and other men and ask them what their comfort level is. If you’ve let him explore in an age appropriate way all along, you’ll be surprised how agile he is. If you let him climb a tree only as far as he is able on his own, then you know he has the coordination and ability to down without too much trouble. And sure, he may get hurt but I guarantee, he’ll wear the scratches or stitches with a warrior’s pride.

roughhousing dad and girl
All kids need to roughhouse. Some will prefer it more than others, usually boys. Turning, rolling, twisting and jumping build new neural pathways, hone balance, and strengthen body awareness. In The Art of Roughhousing, the authors share dozens of activities to enjoy together. “These delightful games are fun, free, and contain many surprising health benefits for parents. So put down those electronic games and get ready to rumble!” encourage the authors. One caveat: some moms tell me they don’t like to wrestle and roughhouse and I tell them they don’t have to, however, they do need to find someone to wrestle with their sons.

Real Play

Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning. -Fred Rogers

mom and girl baking
When my kids were little, we lived in Maine where winters were long and very cold. My sanity saver was the kitchen. We baked everyday – edible treats and made-up recipes. I made sure they had proper tools and they learned to use mixers and knives at an early age.

You never know how those “real play” experiences will influence them later in life. Katie grew up to own a very successful baking company, Kinderhook Snacks.
How will you play this summer?

I challenge you to set aside your to-do list, your busyness, and give yourself time to play. Play with your kids, play with your partner…when you are playing you are fully engaged in the present moment – and what better way to connect with each other?

The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression. -Brian Sutton-Smith

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