Let’s Play!

Play. It’s such a simple word, a simple thing to do yet for lots of us it can sometimes feel overwhelming, feel pressured and for some a little bit unnatural too. I feel like there’s a huge expectation for us as parents to instantly know HOW to play with children and secondly that we’re supposed to ‘enjoy every moment’. Truth is, sometimes there is only so many times you can drive a dinky car up and down the living room with a enthusiastic and convincing siren being bossed about by someone half your size before you feel like giving up! (can you tell what I struggle with?!) Its OK to admit that sometimes its bloody boring! 

However, whether we like it or not play is absolutely essential and incredibly important. Play gives children the opportunity to develop their physical and emotional skills. It allows children to explore their imagination, their social skills and supports healthy brain development. It encourages their self awareness, increases confidence, independence and creativity. Play provides opportunities for children to explore the world around them, the environment and their community. Play allows them to develop their social skills and communication skills. Through play, children learn all this and without any knowledge they are learning.

Sounds important doesn’t it? It is, but that doesn’t mean it has to be complicated, overwhelming or expensive! I spoke with an incredible community of parents on social media and asked them what their biggest worry is when it comes to ‘play’. Nearly all of them answered with the same four things;

  • The worry of not knowing HOW to play. How to get involved.
  • Feeling guilty for not spending enough time playing.
  • Not enjoying particular types of play.
  • Struggling for inspiration and ideas.

Parenting can be tough enough at times without the added pressure or guilt around play itself so I wanted to help tackle these four common hurdles of play!

“The worry of not knowing HOW to play. How to get involved.”

Sometimes play comes naturally and sometimes it doesn’t, either way its important to remember that whatever you’re doing is enough. Our little ones on the other hand are the experts, they do know how to play and that is why its really important to follow their lead and learn from them. Taking part in child initiated play (following them through their play) will enable the child to explore their interests in a safe environment whilst the adult engages, supports and where possible provides opportunities to extend the play further. If your little one is driving some cars around… just sit beside them and copy them, there’s a good chance they’ll start bossing you around in no time and before you know it you’ll be playing too! Our expectations of play are a lot higher than theirs so however we play, we’re there and that is all that they really want!

“Feeling guilty for not spending enough time playing.”

Firstly, don’t feel guilty. Our lives are often one big massive juggling act and it can be hard as an adult to switch off and just simply play, it sometimes feels like our time could be used more wisely, there are places to be and deadlines to hit but like lots of us schedule the important things into our days it can be such a huge benefit to add schedule in some time together, (even if its only 15 minutes) when you’re less likely to be interrupted. Don’t forget that it’s important for children to learn to play independently so honestly don’t feel guilty… and screen time is ok too!

“Not enjoying particular types of play.”

You are not alone! I honestly don’t know any child that enjoys every type of play let alone any adult! Hands up, I find small world play really boring. My son has always loved cars, he’d spend hours driving them up and down, making roads and car parks, for a while I tried to join in by following his lead but he would constantly ‘tell me off’ that I wasn’t doing it right, I didn’t enjoy and he felt frustrated with me ‘ruining’ his fun. I quickly learnt that he was much better playing that independently. Find something that you both enjoy and focus on that area of play and use the areas you don’t enjoy so much to encourage independent play! Also remember that many things are adaptable, so if messy play isn’t quite your idea of excitement, there are lots of ways to have messy play without the mess!

“Struggling for inspiration and ideas.”

There is a whole heap of the most incredible ideas on this website but if you’re not sure where to look then hopefully I can help by offering a few more suggestions! There really are some incredible accounts on social media that always share brilliant play ideas along with great advice and support and show the reality of play too! These are some of my favourites!….

@play.hooray – Claire Russell at Play.Hooray! has THE biggest passion for play and provides excellent play ideas for all ages. Claire has created wonderful play prompts that you can buy to help you for those days when you’re just feeling a little stuck!

@fiveminutemum – Daisy Upton, always saving the day with quick five minute games to keep little ones entertained! Daisy always uses the simplest of resources that we all have around the home and is so honest about the reality of play, she has written a book which is the perfect go to for a quick fix!

@shareyourplaywithme – Abbie is one of the loveliest people that i’ve been lucky enough to interact with over Instagram and her ideas are brilliant, creative and fun, Abbie also shares some other wonderful accounts promoting play so her account is a great little hub for all things play!

@rachelmoffatt13 – Rachel shares such exciting, creative and ambitious activities, they’re eye catching, colour full and the perfect example of an invitation to play. Well worth taking a look and giving them a go!

Goodness, I could go on and on, there really is such a plethora of wonderful accounts on social media! Pop over and take a look and see if anything inspires you! Let them know I sent you and let me know your favourites too…

I’m sure there’s lots I haven’t yet discovered! Of course, if social media isn’t your thing then there is plenty of other resources to get inspiration, advice and support from… if your little one attends a nursery or similar setting then ask their key worker what their favourite activity within the setting is and see if you can replicate it at home! Attend local groups such as a messy play group to let your little one try things out maybe you don’t feel ready to try at home!

Thank you to Katie, a Facebook member of our community who is hugely passionate about the importance of play and loves to share play and activities through social media.  Katie has a Diploma in childcare and education with experience in speech and language and SEN, has worked in a variety of roles within childcare including a childcare practitioner, play therapist and Nanny! Katie is also a mum to two aged 7 and 1. 

Thank you for this wonderful insightful blog from Katie, if you would like to know more, please contact Katie directly.