What is play?
Play does not have to be guided by an adult. Let the child lead you. Let their imagination show you what they know and who they want to be. By playing with a child, you can set an example of how to listen and play back and forth. By being a part of the play, rather than dictating the play, we, as parents and caregivers, can make a lasting impression.
In all of the childcare trainings that I’ve done on building social-emotional skills and guidance/discipline strategies, the one common factor is relationship building. If you, as a caregiver, have a strong bond of trust and have built a relationship with a child, then the child is much more willing to follow. Play helps to build a safe space for mistakes, without harsh judgment, to experiment and learn.
Ideas for play
Children are “playing” all day long. Pretend is in almost everything that they do. They hop on a riding toy and they’re a race car driver. They stack blocks and they’re building a tower to the clouds. Playdough becomes a snake or pasta. Our only job is to provide an outlet for their creativity. It doesn’t take expensive toys or tools to provide an enriching experience.
Playdough can be made with items from your kitchen, and with your children. We’ve made a wonderful Apple Cider Playdough Recipe. It smells delicious and it’s not a big deal if it accidentally ends up in someone’s mouth. (Recipe below.) Use any kitchen tools from measuring cups to butter knives to cookie cutters.
Slime can be a fun alternative to playdough, that’s best played with at the table. It can be made with simple ingredients and vinegar can be used for cleanup.
Bubbles are always a crowd-pleaser. Using a glycerin-based bubble solution, you can make a bowl of bubbles and a wand using pipe cleaners. Ever tried square bubbles? Or a bubble in a bubble? Hours of fun! Bend the pipe cleaners to connect them in the shape of a cube with a handle to dip. Dip and blow. Use a straw, dip it into the solution, and blow bubbles inside of the cube bubbles. Put on clean, fuzzy gloves to be able to hold bubbles in your hands.
Another fun tool is Mr. Bubble Fizzy Tub Colors. These can be used with an equal amount of any cooking oil, and water in a bottle with a lid to make a lava lamp. Just drop in one tablet, close the lid and watch. Use one cup per color to make watercolor paint and use a dropper to paint. Baby food jars work great for this. Roll sheets of paper towels and dip each side between each color to make a crawling rainbow.
If you’re struggling with being stuck inside on a rainy, cold day try making an obstacle course. Sheets become tunnels and tents. Hula hoops become rings to jump between. Chairs become passageways to climb over and under. Couch cushions are towers. This can be an excellent use of brain and muscle power. Making up stories with a flashlight or reading books in a tent you’ve all made can be a memory everyone treasures.
Working on a puzzle can be another fun experience. Starting small and working into larger puzzles can be a fun challenge for kids and adults, from wooden puzzles to floor puzzles to 100-piece jigsaw puzzles that you keep coming back to. Choose themes that interest everyone, letting the child take turns in choosing which ones to practice.
Baking in the kitchen is a favorite activity for my family. We make food that we can share. We get stools and practice our math, making sure to get everything in the right proportions. Zucchini chocolate chip muffins are a recipe we choose often. We also make them gluten-free, sometimes with butterscotch chips or dried cranberries.
Science experiments can also be a way of playing without realizing it’s science because it feels like magic. I’ve found some great ideas at Raising Dragons.
And if all else fails, have a dance party. Any music that makes you want to move your feet and shake your shoulders is perfect. Turn out the lights and dance with flashlights for extra fun.
Planning for Play
The best way to have a fun experience with your kids is to go with the flow. Any of these activities can be tailored to a specific age. Anyone can participate. If what you have planned isn’t something that your kids want to do, pivot. Try something else. Never spend more than 10 minutes preparing for an activity that you’ve never tried. If you aren’t having fun then they won’t either. Make activities that everyone can take part in. Push your comfort zone. Sometimes it feels like magic and sometimes we’ll never do that again because it just feels like work. Have fun!
More food for thought- https://www.inspiremore.com/elementary-school-triples-recess/
Apple Cider Playdough
1 Tbsp. Cream of Tartar
½ cup salt
1 cup Flour (can be GF)
1 cup Apple Cider
2 Tbsp. Oil
1 Tbsp. Cinnamon (optional)
Mix all ingredients together and cook in a pan over medium heat, stirring constantly. When the dough forms and pulls away from the side of the pan, remove from the heat. Knead the dough until it’s smooth. Store in an airtight container, like a Ziploc bag, in the refrigerator. The cinnamon will make the playdough brown. You can omit the cinnamon and use food coloring while you knead the dough.