I have one regret as a mother of adult children. I regret that I didn't spend more time playing and less time mothering.
When my girls were small we had 2 tiny little bread pans, 2 tiny little aprons, 2 tiny little mixing bowls and 2 tiny little spoons. I remember pushing chairs to the counter and letting my 4 and 3-year-old daughters mix and knead bread with me. Each one proudly putting their roll of dough into their tiny bread pan and waiting while it baked. Then we covered our loaves with melted butter and, slice by slice, had a tiny tea party for 3.
I didn't realize how much they loved playing with mom until I tried to give away their aprons. I heard my teenage girls talk reverently about baking bread. As they talked, I realized we had done much more than bake bread together. We had created a relationship whose ingredients included time, memories and love.
Peter Gray, Ph.D. in his article on the value of play for Psychology Today says, "Play in our species serves many valuable purposes. It is a means by which children develop their physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and moral capacities. It is a means of creating and preserving friendships. It also provides state of mind that, in adults as well as children, is uniquely suited for high-level reasoning, insightful problem solving and all sorts of creative endeavors."
"Psychology Today" also shared the importance of "make believe" or pretending during play. In Scott Barry Kaufman's article "The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development," he quotes Hughes who said, "Taking on different roles allows children the unique opportunity to learn social skills such as communication, problem solving, and empathy (Hughes, 1999)."
Sometimes, as parents, we think that lectures, books, lessons and time in class are the best ways to teach our children, when, in fact, playing pirates may teach your children about good, evil, choices, empathy, problem solving, communication and many many more important life skills than piano or ballet.
So, now that you know just a tiny bit about the importance of play for your child, here are some fun ideas to get you started playing.
Rules of play:
Get down on the floor. Stoop to your child's level. You can't sit in one spot and play so wear comfortable clothes and plan to crawl. This is when Yoga Pants are called for.
Plan to get dirty. Be comfortable getting your hands and clothes dirty. What you are doing is more important than how you look. Don't plan on glamorous selfies.
Let go of your pride. Remember that you are in your child's world and let them have some power. Teach them the fine arts of negotiation and leadership by letting them take charge of the direction of your play.
Now for fun. Here are some great play ideas:
Playing house. You don't have to have the latest child's play kitchen or toys. Keep a designated drawer full of cups, saucers, silverware and aprons your child can get out and use whenever they want. Get on the floor and join them or invite them to the counter and let them create. Let them choose any "safe" ingredients they want and see what they make. Use play dough to make play food. Use boxes to make furniture.
Tree house or fort. Whether it is in a tree or the family room, there is no place more loved by children than their own personal clubhouse. Tell your kids about your secret fort and help them build one of their own. Be sure to make a secret password for getting in. My favorite was a blanket held down by pillows over a table.
Building a castle. There is nothing better than a large empty box. Appliance stores are great places for collecting empty boxes. Carpet tubes from flooring companies make great building logs. You do all the sharp cutting, but let them direct the construction. Stand back and watch them create. Give them a bowl or box of broken crayons and let them design.
Blocks, Legos and things that stack. Let go of the picture on the box and allow children to design whatever they want. Sit on the floor and be amazed as you listen closely to your child's original ideas. Let go of what you think they "should" do or the "best" way to build, and watch them learn from their mistakes. Every time a tower of blocks falls they will figure out how to build it just a little stronger the next time.
Bugs, worms and creepy crawly things. Poke holes in a peanut butter jar lid and head out on safari. Take your children to a safe open field, get down in the dirt at ants eye level and see what is living there. Collect a few bugs, then go home and help your children learn about them.
There is an old poem my mother cross stitched for me when I had my first baby. It read:
"Cleaning and scrubbing can wait 'til tomorrow
For babies grow up we've learned to our sorrow,
So quiet down cobwebs and dust go to sleep
I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep." Anonymous
I regret not taking more time for play and not having more time to play with my own mother. Time has passed and the days of crawling on the floor and snuggling in a blanket fort are over forever.
Remember someone loves you and wants to play. Shannon Symonds worked 14 years as an Advocate for families experiencing Domestic or Sexual abuse while raising 6 children in Seaside Oregon. She loves to laugh, write, run, paint and most of all play with her family and friends.