For today’s installment of #WednesdayPlayday, it seems only fitting to actually discuss, well, play! On a scale of 1 (regimented academic drilling and military like chore charts) to 10 (bed time is optional and you have a moon bounce in your dining room), where do you stand on the play scale?
How many activities do you have scheduled for your kids on a given day and how much time do they have just to play?
When your kids ARE playing, do you jump in with commentary and restrictions (No, Susie, that’s a truck, not a skateboard… Keep the tea set in the kitchen area… Bobbie, you can’t be fairy princess, you’re a boy)?
At what point of the mess-making do you intervene and begin to limit the play?
How do you handle conflict? Jump in immediately? Let things play out a bit? Hunger Games?
If there’s one thing I learned from 6 years teaching and 6 years counseling small children, it was that when I stepped out of the way, amazing things usually happened with these kids. But being hands-free (as I’ve said before) is WAY easier said than done. I was fortunate to attend a talk by author, Heather Shumaker, last week and play is her bag, baby. So of course I’m going to summarize it and share all the juicy details. The rules of play if you will.
1. Limit behavior, not ideas. This seems pretty obvious, but if Johnny and Jenny want to dress up in bathing suits, wrap their knees and elbows with scarves and pretend to ride skateboards (hypothetically) then let them! But if Johnny and Jenny start jumping off the back of the couch (again, hypothetically) then that’s not okay.
2. True play is child initiated, child directed, and spontaneous. The kids have fun when I set up a tea set for them or send them on ‘relay races’ to bring me my phone, but it’s just not the same as making a house for the Elf or painting a menu for the restaurant.
3. It takes children at least 45 minutes to get into play. We have ‘quiet time’ every afternoon over here… and by quiet time I mean, leave Mummy alone. Some afternoons, Oliver naps, but when he’s awake, it inevitably takes them a little while to get into their ‘stay-out-of-Mummy’s-way’ groove.
4. Kids need support understanding and managing their emotions… insisting that a child feel happy or that things are ‘okay’ doesn’t help them… label emotions, give them acceptable ways to express feelings. It’s not the action of these emotions, it’s the target. I.e. kicking is okay, but kicking your brother is not. Hitting a pillow is okay, but hitting the cat is not.
5. It takes practice to deal with conflict. True peace is not the absence of conflict but the respectful resolution of conflict.
6. The more social and intelligent a species, the more evidence of puppy play/ roughhousing. Resist the urge to intervene when your children start their afternoon wrestling match! Rather, help your children set limits: ‘are you both having fun?’ Ask whether they want any rules. Rough housing requires trust, conflict resolution, dynamic thinking… good stuff.
Eleanor and Oliver are old enough that they play pretty well together on most days, and the afternoons when they hit their sweet spot are remarkable. I can tell when they’re really into their play because of the piles and vignettes I discover around the house… This was a bed for their Elf On the Shelf.
But just yesterday they were making a nest in my closet complete with a toilet from the dollhouse, a cape, and a few pom pom snowballs. Real play is far from organized… I have to bite my tongue to keep from asking them to stop bringing the ENTIRE PLAY KITCHEN downstairs or to stop putting all 15 throw pillows under the coffee table. Our family room has a fort in the corner right now and I’m pretty sure there are 12 stuffed animals ‘sleeping’ in our shower.
Do those of you with young children give them free reign to play? Are you comfortable with rough housing? What’s the play of choice in your house?!
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