As a parent you may feel pressurised into creating engaging and fun activities for your children to do all day long. What if this is not the best for them though? What could possibly be better than an action-packed schedule of dancing, arts, music and sports? An action-packed life of following your own passions and interests, as and when you choose. This blog post explains why.
Key Elements of Play
Defining play is vital to offering the best play environment for your children. What is play? And what is work? Can there be a mixture of play and work?
Play is defined in different ways dependent on the author’s experiences and views. However, the main theme that all definitions of play have in common is that it is fun as well as developmentally beneficial. Really, as parents, we should not concern ourselves too much with what else comprises a definition of play because it is for our children to find their own source of fun. We cannot dictate what someone else should find fun, as this puts a pressure on them to ‘appear to enjoy something’. In turn, this pressure can make it less fun and therefore less beneficial. It is more like work, trying to do something to achieve an outcome.
The most important requirements for our children to play are that they are left to their own choices of activity on a regular basis. You can ignite imagination in them, with offering ideas of activities you find fun, but you will be surprised how much fun children create using a cardboard box and no input from you.
Use of Language When Witnessing Playtime
To ensure that your child’s platime continues to bring the most benefit for their development and enjoyment, the use of words are vital (for more information see my blog post about the lanugage we use with our children). Words should be aimed to acknowledge your child’s feelings on their play activities, rather than to reward them with praise. Why? Because telling someone they have done great, is short for ‘you have done a great job’, which in turn shows they are pleasing you with their work. It makes the activity work based rather than solely for their enjoyment. Instead, acknowledging ‘you look like you’re having a great time’, for example, focuses on their feelings toward the activity and takes out any expectation you have for it.
The one I find really hard to work out what best to say is when playing some sort of ball game. When catching the ball, it is natural to say “yay!” when your child catches it. This makes it an achievement based activity which can take out the child’s enjoyment when they don’t catch the ball. You can try and just say the same sort of thing each time, regardless of whether they catch or not. Such as “again!”, “quick! Pass it to me!”.
What Can Block Play as a Healthy Activity?
Anything that takes over the freedom that the daytime offers children. This can include activities such as watching TV or being taken to lots of parental-chosen activities such as music lessons and dancing. Even if your child chooses these classes, they are not independent free play for your child. Your child will have to adhere to instructions from the teacher, who decides what is fun. Your child will not usually have the freedom to run around in circles screaming if the other kids in the class are lying down doing pointed toes for a ballet lesson.
Being forced to watch or partake in activities chosen by the caregivers can limit your child’s own imagination and creativity processes. That child, left to run in circles screaming, may be releasing a lot of pent up frustration about life circumstances. Being allowed to express their emotions as much as possible may make them more contented in the longrun. A child always expected to sit still and behave according to the caregiver’s requirements may find they have not felt free to epress themselves and may struggle expressing emotions and needs in the many years to come too. This can lead to a lot of pent up frustration.
That is not to say that occasional activities bring benefit to our children, just to be mindful that constant activities all day every day may restrict how much your child is spending time on activities they choose themselves.
What is so Developmentally Important About Play?
Play causes every possible emotion humans can eperience. Frustration when a sibling knocks your biggest tower over – again and again. Excitement when you manage to climb higher than you ever have before. Happiness when you run like a giant throughout the house making silly noises. In learning how these emotions feel, and becoming comfortable with them in a safe environment, can help express the range of emotions including negative ones in the many years to come. It helps the child enter a mature path to dealing with emotions rather than feeling there is something wrong with those emotions and trying to suppress them. Remember you are the adult offering guidance to your children on how to healthily deal with strong emotions caused by life – including play. For further information on dealing with your child’s and own emotions, please read my post on this topic.
My Child Won’t Play
Sometimes it can feel as if your child won’t play much, or won’t play without your constant input. Independent play will only come when the child feels safe and has the freedom to do what they are inspired to. You can set the scene with offering interactive toys such as a bouncy ball. You can inspire them through reading stories, dramatically telling the giant’s story with “Fee Fi Fo Fum” can give your child fun ideas about acting like a giant with you. Sometimes, through boredom, the desire will be formed to entertain themselves. If we, as parents, constantly try to fill our children’s lives with entertainment, then they will only know how to come to you for creative ideas. Allowing boredom to set in can be all that is needed for a child’s imagination to blossom.
Further Information on Play
The psychological experts are the best points of reference to why playtime is vital to developing healthy children. They know how the brain develops well. For further reading on the benefits of play and its importance, have a read of the following two books. ‘Hold Onto Your Kids’ by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate discusses the importance of your children play and the expression of emotions. Dr Deborah Macnamara’s ‘Rest Play Grow’ book includes further details of how to create a good environment to help your children feel secure through play.