You may have noticed a really big difference between children and grown-ups. No, I’m not talking about the physical size difference or the more obvious maturity that most adults have compared to their kids. I’m talking about our approach to life...
Have you noticed that once we’re parents, most of us want life to be civilized, tidy, quiet, and relaxed?
And the kids? They want wild. They want action. They want exploration and adventure. While we want to sleep, they want one thing over and over again. Play!
And they want it as much as possible. All the time.
There’s a very important reason play matters so much to our young children. Research shows that they need it to thrive (as do we). In fact, play may be one of the most essential experiences our children can be immersed in to equip them for later life. The more they can do it, the better off they may be.
There’s just one problem. Play is evolving. In many cases, it no longer looks like it once did, and that may not be a good thing. The Australian Child Health Poll recently investigated digital media use for children. Our infants and toddlers are engaging with screens of one kind or another around 12-14 hours per week.
To put that into perspective, experts argue that this figure should be as close to zero as possible. And 2-6-year-old children are on screens around 26 hours per week. That’s over three hours per day! (Our teens hit a whopping 43 hours per week, or just over six hours per day.)
That means our little ones are missing out on up to 26 hours per week of genuine, creative playtime; the kind of play where they connect with others, use their imagination – and their hands – and the kind of play that leads to great outcomes.
If we want our children to thrive and flourish, they need to play. When it’s done right – screens are kept to a minimum and children are actually building things, real play stimulates growth and learning for children that they simply can’t get in other, more ‘modern’ ways.
Creative play with toys like LEGO DUPLO creates space for three vital needs to be met in our children’s lives: relatedness, competence, and autonomy.
Top Tips for playing with young children
· Some parents roll their eyes and groan about playtime with the kids. But there are a few things we can do to make it work for everyone.
· Put the screens away and do something creative. Grab the LEGO DUPLO and build a tower (or something way cooler), make a cubby house with cushions, boxes and blankets, or make something in the kitchen.
· Get down on the floor with them. They want you in their world.
· Let your child take the lead. The more you can encourage and support their autonomy, the more they’ll explore, create, and remain motivated. When we take over or show them how to do it “this way”, they feel controlled and lose motivation.
· Encourage talking. Lots. Playtime allows us to build strong relationships and communication skills.
· Role Play. As children ‘pretend’ to be the horse or the mum or the teacher, they develop cognitive, relational, and communication skills.
· Make sure that play is unstructured. This allows the children to use their imagination and creativity to make play whatever they want it to be.
· Encourage games and toys that are open-ended. Rather than there just being one way to do things, a child can develop endless possibilities in their play without feeling boxed in.
· Live in the moment and be playful. We often think about dinner, or other things on our agenda, when we play with our kids. Instead, let go of the worries and dive right in. Play in the here and now. You’ll find more delight and magic – and so will your child.
To find out more, go to www.happyfamilies.com.au