Play is children’s work, and vital to their development. Through play, your kids discover and experience the world and grow into a well-rounded adult. They learn to think for themselves, share with others, take risks and manage emotions. If there was no such thing as play, they would never fully develop.
Yet, today’s kids are playing half as much as their parents did. Now, they’re spending more time inside and missing out on the skills that play helps them develop. As a parent, you’re responsible for giving playtime back to your children. Luckily, there are dozens of ways to promote play, even in 2021.
1. Set Screen Limits
Children and teens between eight and 18 spend about seven hours a day in front of a screen. Phones, computers, tablets and video games eat up almost all of their waking hours, leaving little time for play. Plus, all that sitting only encourages more sedentary behavior, which can lead to obesity, cardiovascular disease and other health issues.
To better encourage play, set screen limits and confiscate technology once they reach them. Teach your children that media can be beneficial as long as you don’t overindulge. Help them minimize screen time by establishing tech-free zones like the dinner table and their bedrooms.
2. Avoid Over Scheduling
Is your schedule overflowing with meetings, extracurricular activities and optional activities? A full calendar can overwhelm both children and adults and leave little room for unstructured downtime. Reprioritize free time by shortening that to-do list and removing unnecessary obligations from your calendar. Then, let the kids experience some boredom. Eventually, they’ll find a way to entertain themselves, ultimately engaging in open-ended play.
3. Offer Open-Ended Toys
Speaking of open-ended playtime, one of the best ways to get kids to play on their own is to provide toys that don’t come with instructions or an end goal. Blocks, magnetic tiles, toy animals and dolls are great examples of open-ended toys. With these items in hand, your little ones can use their creativity and imagination to problem-solve and play pretend. Moreover, they’ll learn to play independently, which is a huge plus in a pandemic.
4. Establish Play Spaces
Where will you keep all these toys? In a play space, of course! Establishing an area for play can help your child differentiate between mealtime, school time and playtime. Ultimately, this separation will help them focus on one task at a time and even develop a daily routine.
Establish a play area where the kids can make a mess without getting in trouble. Knowing that that corner of the room will get dirty and chaotic will help you keep your cool when it does. Moreover, dedicating that space to your child’s creative fancies will allow them to explore new ideas and experience play without worrying about breaking rules or boundaries.
5. Get Outside
Sending more time outside is another incredibly effective way to promote play, especially this year. As the pandemic drags on, gyms, indoor playgrounds and activity centers remain closed and parents everywhere are wondering where to let their kids release their energy.
Instead of letting your kids climb all over the couches, take them to the park. Go on a nature hike, play hide and seek and climb trees. Find a natural playground to encourage imagination or explore a traditional one and play pretend together. Enjoy seasonal outdoor activities like making campfires, raking leaves, building snowmen and splashing through puddles, too.
6. Explore Their Interests
Pay close attention to your little one’s interests. What are they curious about? Is there an activity or pastime they enjoy more than others? Dedicate some time to enjoy that activity together and explore their passions. You might even teach them a new skill. For example, if your child loves food, you could invite them into the kitchen to bake cookies or make a smoothie. This play will likely involve more structure, but it will help them explore their interests.
8. Praise Play
Of course, you’ll want to encourage your tot to keep playing with affirmative words and actions. Praise good behavior and creativity with smiles, claps and high-fives. You can also mimic them and play with toys like they do to signal that you approve of their choices and are letting them lead playtime. Use labeled praise and descriptions to verbally communicate your approval and encouragement, too.
Learning How To Play
If playing with your child isn’t instinctual, you aren’t alone. Many parents struggle to engage with their kids and meet them on their level. After all, playing with Hot Wheels for an hour isn’t everyone’s idea of fun.
However, it is possible to reawaken your inner child and begin bonding with your little one. Find an activity you both enjoy and ease your way into playing with their toys. Commit to a few minutes each day and soon, you may find yourself losing track of time.
Get lost in those moments. Laugh until you cry, dance in the living room, be silly, be imaginative and — most importantly — be you. That’s the best thing you can do to promote play and be a fantastic parent to your mini-me.