Planning play with your kids

Build play time into your daily schedule to build your relationship with your child and have fun.

Plan ahead to make your time playing with your child more productive and fun. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Plan ahead to make your time playing with your child more productive and fun. Photo credit: Pixabay.

If your life is anything like the lifestyles of the parents we know, you are pretty busy people. With working outside the home or working at home, taking your children to appointments, shopping, cleaning, preparing food, taking care of other adults in your family and personal activities, your days are full to overflowing. When is it “kid time?” When can you fit in quality time every day that you and your child must have to build a close relationship?

Research indicates that children who experience supportive and caring relationships with the significant caregivers in their lives (parent’s, grandparent’s and other caregivers) that these children are more likely to thrive. Some parents may feel awkward about this idea, but we suggest you build play time into your daily schedule. Carve it on your calendar. Deposit it in your datebook.

What we are talking about is planning playtime. As you know from the rest of your life, planning ahead makes every event easier. The planning can smooth transitions from one activity to another and can help you be ready to respond to challenges that might interrupt play. Planning also helps us achieve the outcomes we want for our children.

Have you ever had a play session that goes like this: You and your child have some free time ahead of you and you suggest an activity you think your child really likes – playing a game of checkers. First, you have to spend time looking for the games. Then, many of the pieces have gone missing and have to be rounded up. Then, the phone rings and you spend five minutes on a conversation that could have waited until later. Then, you remember you wanted to start a load of laundry and that takes a few more minutes. By the time you get to your child with the game board and pieces, they have become involved in a video and has lost interest in playing the game.

Michigan State University Extension says that planning ahead could have given you a chance to make this short time together more productive and fun. You could have made sure the game was assembled beforehand, put the phone on the message machine and put the laundry off for another half-hour. Or, you could have involved your child in the process of sorting the laundry, loading it into the machine and inputting the washer settings. Who doesn’t love pushing buttons and turning dials? Blending learning activities into daily chores does take more time, but if it is lighthearted and done cooperatively, then learning is fun.

Choosing the right activities to share with your child, whether they are part chore, part fun or all fun, takes some thought. When you plan the activities you want to do with your child, keep these points in mind:

  • How does this activity meet the needs of your child? Every activity you do together meets one great need and that is spending time with you. Giving your child your full attention over a shared activity builds a child’s self-esteem. Your child may have other needs too, that can be met by an activity you do together. Does your child crave a lot of physical activity? Then plan some outside time with your child every day, or create a space in your home where it is okay to jump, climb or tumble. Gathering the laundry from all over the house can be fun and a physical activity.
  • What about the developmental level of your child? You want to plan the activity so that your child does not struggle with it nor does he get bored with it too easily.
  • What are your child’s interests? Most children let us know in no uncertain terms what they are interested in. Does your child gravitate to the sink and love playing in the water. Then plan for an extra-long bath time where you can let him splash about and explore the water with you.
  • Activities that allow a child or children to experience the materials at multiple skill levels often will keep your child or children engaged for longer periods of time. Things like play dough, open ended art activities, blocks, or just, many large cardboard boxes to use for pretend play; can engage your child or children even if they have different skill levels. These are activities, and materials that have great play value.
  • How new or unique is the activity? Sometimes you can add interest to a common activity by changing it out in some manner. You can change the location, such as taking a typically-indoor activity like food preparation or folding laundry outdoors. You can add new materials to a cooking activity, such as letting your child cut up their own soft vegetables with a plastic knife or mixing their own batter in a small bowl (which you later incorporate into the whole).
  • Add the element of fun. Just the act of clearing up toys and storing them can be fun if you slow down to the child’s speed and make a game of it. Try putting all the blocks through a big, poster board constructed funnel so that they land in their container. Treat the clean up like an egg hunt and let them fill their baskets (or bags) with the pieces of one type of toy, which they must hunt through the room (or house) to find. Remind yourself that the main goal is to have a good time and organizing is a secondary goal. Reframe the activity so that you have a new, happy approach to clean-up.

Creative and thoughtful parents use both their spontaneity and forethought when considering how to use their time with their children. Following your instincts and adapting activities to be done in new ways is a challenge sometimes, especially if you’re busy and tired. But, we urge you to make the effort because these opportunities for play will not be offered forever. Before you know it, your child will grow into a stage where they want to spend a lot more time with their friends than with their parents. So, make plans to use the time you have wisely. For suggestions and activities to share with children visit eXtension.

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