“Mommy, PLAY!!!” the insistent little voice rings out above the din of the dishwasher. Chubby little fingers wrapped tightly around a toy, her eyes are wide with expectation. It is a request repeated many times a day in our home. Often when the phone is ringing, or dinner is boiling over on the stove. In the hustle and bustle of daily life, on good days and on bad ones -”Mommy PLAY!” And each time I hear those words, I have reason to smile. Because those words are proof that my toddler knows I can play. And that she knows I will.
The reality is that play is not always as easy as it seems. Working with families of young children for over ten years, I watched many parents struggle to remember how to play. For some it felt awkward and uncomfortable. For others it seemed boring. But for many, the busyness of life simply got in the way. Now a busy mom myself, I understand the juggling act that parenthood can be. I too have days when I feel pressured by the frantic pace of life and tempted to put play on the backburner.
On those hectic days, I am grateful for the background I have that has helped me to understand the value of play. Play is critical to every child’s development, and the primary way in which children learn. Beginning at infancy and continuing on through school age, children develop gross motor and fine motor skills, learn new concepts, develop creativity and imagination, gain an understanding of the world around them, and practice social skills all through play. Spending time playing together with your child will help your child learn new things and make progress in all areas of development. And playing together will help you to build a fun, loving, mutually enjoyable relationship with your child, a foundation upon which to build for a lifetime.
Some parents naturally “remember” how to play. For others it takes a little effort. But taking the time to play with your child is truly worth the effort. There is no better way to bring joy to your child’s life, and to your own. Here are a few tips to make the most of playtime, based on research on child development, years of playing with hundreds of children, and delightful moments of playing with my own…
· Relax, take some deep breaths, and make sure you are in the right frame of mind to have fun with your little one.
· Sit down on the floor at your child’s eye level.
· Don’t try too hard to “teach” your child anything. Remember that play is the most important way for children to learn. As you relax and play together, opportunities for learning will happen naturally.
· Let your child direct the play. Watch and see what your child is interested in, then join in on the game.
· Make playtime special. Try not to multitask (i.e. no folding laundry during playtime!).
· Minimize distractions by turning the TV off, and ignoring the phone if possible.
· Make playtime a part of your routine by setting aside a certain amount of time each day.
· Don’t be afraid to be silly! Relax, have fun, and ENJOY this time with your child.
Whether you “remember” how to play or whether it is a challenge, there is no person better equipped to teach you than your child. The moments that I forget about my “to do” list and simply sit down to play are the most joyful moments of my day. The house may be a little messier. And my “to do” list may get a little longer. But my little girl is learning, growing, and thriving. And I have a front row seat, watching as she delights in each new discovery. What a privilege it is to be a part of that joy of discovery, and to share in her delight…