Motherhood brings so many joys. From the first smile, to the first word, to the first steps… we are hooked. Life is forever changed once we have children.
However, take a moment to consider something… when was the last time you played with your child? I’m not talking about handing your daughter a lump of play dough while you cook supper or the random artillery of questions you fire mindlessly at your son while flipping through a magazine. I’m talking about all out, completely engaged, play.
Play is how children explore and make sense of their world. As the adults in our son’s and/or daughter’s lives, we miss out on some wonderful learning opportunities if we do not engage in play with our children. Forgot how to play? Here are some tips on how to play with your children.
Follow their lead
Whether your child is having a tea party and handing out the tea or pretending to be a doctor, follow their direction. If they want you to eat and drink at their “party” then do so. If they want you to be the nurse in their clinic, then play the role.
Observe their play
Be a keen observer. Watch how they interact with their dolls, how they speak while they play. Listen to the tone of their voice. Try not to correct or interfere. Sometimes we might hear our child articulating things we ourselves have said. Although you may be uncomfortable that your child is telling his or her dolls “I’m too busy”, you are getting a wonderful opportunity to glimpse into the world as they are experiencing and interpreting it.
Extend their play
While playing with your child, you may notice that they hit a peak or a plateau in their play. By playing with them, you may be able to extend the experience by providing extra materials. For instance, if your child is consistently having tea parties, you may want to add a toy stove and plates to the space. They may deepen their play by baking cookies for the tea party.
Extending play can also be done with infants. For example, if you observe your infant lining up blocks, you can take some blocks and demonstrate how to stack them.
Focus on your child completely
Treat the play time with your child as if it’s an important business meeting. Turn off your cell phone. Don’t check your e-mail. Give your child your undivided attention.
Schedule a time
It’s obviously unrealistic to play with your child all day long. Set some time aside every day to play with your child. You can even set a time limit. You can tell your child, “Mommy is going to play with you for half an hour and then I will go make supper”. However, make sure that you are engaged 100% with your child during that half hour.
Reflect on the play experience
If you have a moment, write down a few thoughts about the play experience you encountered with your child. Were there any surprises? What did you learn about your child? What did you learn about yourself? What would you like to do next time?
By playing with your child, you are supporting their exploration of the world in which they live. Now, let’s PLAY!