I want to play to be at the heart of my parenting. I’m biased because I want to put play at the heart of everything I do, but also, it works. Playful Parenting makes the case brilliantly and I highly recommend it. If you do nothing else and don’t read any further, just take a look at that book.
Rather than replay its contents, here are a few thoughts and observations on bringing up our boy who is now about to turn 11. Disclaimer: this all comes from someone who consistently gets a lot of this wrong.
Be on the same level
When talking and playing with your kids, get down and on their level. Not metaphorically. When talking to them, try and have your eyes at their eye level so they’re not towered over. And if they’re playing on the floor, get down there with them. This helps you both have a more equal footing and demonstrates that you’re interested in them and their world.
It’s more than playing board games
I love board games and I think they’re great for playing together as a family. For one, they have the great advantage of not being on a screen; but they are part of developing a mindset, not the limit. I reckon the aim is to discover your own games in other parts of everyday life. Kids do this all the time so it’s something where you can follow their lead.
We’ve started doing this on morning dog walks. A walk is a great opportunity for play as it’s time away from the usual distractions.
Make stuff together
One of the best ways to play that we’ve found is to make something together. Lockdown was an opportunity to do this with the boy and his friends. We’d run weekly art sessions and it was a real joy to see what they would produce.
Here’s a playlist of the some of the activities we ran.
Every age is the best age
We discovered that every age as your kids grow is the best age. The first couple of years where everything is a first are tough to beat, but the riches do not end there. As they grow, different forms of play open up. Communication starts very early through sound and gesture and then words appear, sentences and then fully fledged terrible jokes. Each stage offers up opportunities for different games and forms of play.
Don’t stop reading to them
Reading to your kids is a joy and it really helps them develop the book bug. Our boy loves reading, so we could easily stop reading at night if that was its only purpose, but it’s not, so we haven’t. Reading at bedtime is a ritual that we love, it’s also often a playful highlight of the day. It’s a time where everyone’s as relaxed as they’re going to be, and there isn’t a deadline, and that’s conducive to a playful atmosphere.
It’s not about winning
I think one of the best things to share with your kids is an ability to play for the joy of playing and discovery. Sport as it tends to be taught, teaches kids that winning is all important — that’s the opposite of play. Real play is open-ended where everyone involved wins—it’s not a zero-sum game. I’m not saying avoid competitive sport, only that it’s different to the play I’m talking about and it’s a distinction worth making.
Don’t rush to shape things
When kids are playing they’ll freewheel with ideas and bounce around topics and that’s all good. I’ve been guilty of pushing to do something very specific but the boy’s spotted some other opportunity — it’s often more interesting to follow their hunch than complete your set objective. This also gives them the creative confidence to make their own discoveries.
Boring is good
Playing with your kids is not about entertaining them. I think part of it is giving them space to be bored, because being bored leads to them to discover ways to make life interesting for themselves. I’m not arguing for neglect, but just to give your kids space to explore things for themselves too.
I think we’ve erred too much on the side of caution in terms of how the boy deals with physical risk and it’s something I worry about. When I was a kid we’d roam far a wide in a way that doesn’t seem to happen these days. Risk is an important component of play as it teaches kids how to manage it. Playgrounds play an important role in this process, we should be careful that the elements of risk and danger are not ironed out of them.
They have the best ideas.
Is play something you think about in how you parent? What are your tips? What have I missed?
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