I often find myself having the conversation with my girls “just go outside and play”, to the general reply “but I have nothing to play”. For me, I remember play as a natural part of my childhood journey. Did my parents do something different to what I am doing? Should I be doing more? Which lead me to think about – What is a parents role in play?
A key difference to the environment I was bought up in, is today we live in a more structured world, kids do more extra curriculum activities, we have access to a vast array of technology and we are generally time poor. Some of us have little time to play with our children especially if they are the 2nd or 3rd child. As such we need to help facilitate a healthy and balanced environment to allow play to occur. When we talk about “facilitating”, this is about creating an environment where children have the opportunity for self-initiated open ended play. No rules, no structure, no boundaries. Freedom to explore, create, imagine and grow.
I have tried a number of things, but the list below offers some concepts and actions that are easy to implement or at the very least allow us to evaluate how we can help facilitate play today:
- Space: Create opportunities for both indoor and outdoor play. At home ensure there is a section of the house that the kids have freedom to explore and create both inside and out. A park or playground also offers plenty of opportunities for play. Space is about having an area they feel comfortable to engage in play.
- Opportunities: Try to have a variety of materials to stimulate different kinds of play. Items which provide open ended play such as blocks, recycled materials, craft materials, dress ups or even general household items such kitchen utensils, a broom etc.. Offering a variety of materials opens up a world of experiences that facilitate choice. Further to this even just changing a playroom around regularly or rotating toys offers a stimulating environment for children.
- Access: Allowing children access to the activities/materials is extremely important as it empowers them to make decisions on what they want to do and to explore different options. Where possible have things located where children can reach them by themselves. Sometimes this is not always possible, so maybe setting up an activity table at the start of the day/week with a range of different craft kits/materials/activities is another option.
- Time: As mentioned life can be very structured, so allowing children the time to engage in open-ended play is essential. They need long periods of uninterrupted play, 45-60 minutes is a recommended minimum.
- Interaction: Play can be an activity done singularly or in group with friends and family. Providing opportunities with various people and group sizes is important for children’s social development. Take an interest in your child’s play, ask questions and join in when appropriate.
In facilitating play parents are simply providing a supportive environment to a natural process that exists within children. Play should be unstructured and it should be led by the children. Play should allow children to express themselves, explore, grow, interact and make choices. Most of all play should be enjoyable.