Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Protecting Play: At Home

Kids come into the world with an innate need to learn, to understand and to create meaning, and for the first few years of their lives, play is the method by which they explore the world. We don't need to teach them how to play -- but we do need to step out of their way.

As we discussed earlier this month, adults often interfere with kids' play. Kids today are not getting enough physical activity because adults worry about their safety. Kids don't get to play football (and practice their social and problem solving skills) because adults worry about liability.

So let's talk solutions. Next week, we'll talk about how we, as parents, can advocate for change. This week, let's talk about ways to protect play at home.

Make Your Home a Place for Play

Creative, imaginative, active play -- the kind that fuels kids' hearts, minds and souls -- doesn't require expensive toys or massive outdoor play sets. It requires you to set the stage and get out of the way.

Want your kids to play? Try these tips:
  • Don't be afraid of mess. Creative play gets messy. It's pretty hard to create a Lego masterpiece without first dumping out all of the Legos. And it's next to impossible to build a good couch fort without first removing the couch cushions and gathering blankets from every bedroom in the house. So take a deep breath. Let go of your need and desire to have a perfectly coiffed home. Remind yourself that play helps kids learn. And let them play. (If it helps, schedule a clean-up time at the end of playtime.)
  • Provide raw materials. Ever notice that the most expensive, elaborate toys get the least play? That's because most fancy electronic toys do one thing only. The best play actively engages kids' imaginations, and pre-programmed playthings don't allow kids the freedom to create their own play experience. Instead of spending money on the latest and greatest toys, stock your home with blocks, playdoh and building sets. Add in some dress up clothes and cardboard boxes. Provide art supplies (crayons, markers, paints and scrap paper). Kids like "home things" too, like pretend food and baby dolls.
  • Get them outside. Inside play is good, but outside play allows your kids to explore on a bigger scale. Try to include some "outside time" everyday. If you don't have a backyard, head to a local park or nature center. Let your kids run, holler and climb.
  • Set an example. Sending the kids out to play is rarely as effective as heading out with them. While it's impractical (and unnecessary) for you to play with them all time, it's certainly nice to join in now and again. Shoot some hoops together. Play hopscotch. Join them for pretend tea party. And let your kids see you enjoying some fun-time as well. Too few adults play, and that's a shame!
  • Value play. Too many parents today think that academics are the key to success. Academics are important, but it doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. Kids, especially young kids, learn through play. A preschooler does not have to fill in a worksheet to learn how to count. He can count the rocks in the back of his toy truck.

What do you do to encourage play in your home?


  1. Another great post. Right now we have two huge boxes that we got at Christmas taped together, and the flaps make a door. The boys have been having fun playing in it! The five-year-old has put all his stuffed animals in it too.

  2. I got over my fear of trampolines and bought one. We put it up even though it is the middle of winter here. The kids LOVE it. They will be out there jumping for hours, even in cold, cold weather. I don't know if I have ever seen so many creative games made up as I have seen on that trampoline. It is fantastic!

  3. Tonight, as I was tucking in my 11 year old, he couldn't go to sleep until he'd spun me a yarn about the toys he was playing with...just needed to get it out!

  4. It's so great hearing from parents who facilitate and appreciate play!

    @Andrea -- I'd love to hear more about how you got over your fear of trampolines. That kind of thing speaks directly to one of the main inhibitors of children's play -- parents fears about safety. What helped you get over that fear? Why did you decide to confront that fear? How have your boys (and family)been affected by your decision? (If you'd like to write a guest post for me on this topic, I'd love to publish it!)