December 29, 2021 10:37:23 pm
By Sonya Philip
When you think of playing with your children, what do you visualise? Do you see yourself with your child out in the park playing catch? Do you see yourself seated on the floor helping your child with a jigsaw puzzle? Or do you imagine setting aside a scheduled time to play with them?
Either way, if you are thinking about being a part of your child’s playtime, you’re on the right path. The pandemic has rendered many parents too busy or stressed to carve out the time to connect with their children through play.
But you can always begin now. Playing with your child will help strengthen your bond, enhance their childhood, and help you build positive memories.
Before we begin to do that though, we must understand some principles as we engage in play with our children. These are extremely simple and I detail them out below:
Learn to let go
The first and foremost rule to remember when connecting with children through play is to let go of our adult ideas of play. Remind yourself that play needs to be child-centric. Hence, your role is to adapt yourself to what your child wants to do and not the other way around.
This also means not defining or assuming any adult expectations. As adults, we have already established preconceived ideas but a child is exploring and understanding their world as they play.
By imposing our thoughts and ideas we have robbed our children of the opportunity to think, explore, make mistakes and hence learn. Keep any adult thinking at bay.
Today, more than ever before children need autonomy and only then will they have a sense of control. Imagine your own childhood or yourself as a child. Hopefully, you had a childhood that allowed for hours of unsupervised play. Bring those emotions when you’re beginning to play with your child.
Include storytelling and involve children
Everyone loves a good story! Children, especially, are fascinated by stories. Once again, without pre-defining anything for your child, start an impromptu storytelling session where the child is equally involved as you. Remember, this is different from reading aloud a story from a book.
During storytelling, you can expand your imagination far and wide. Make up characters or scenarios; let your child join you in the process. We do something similar at our centre at Learning Matters. Maybe you say one line and he or she follows. Remember to let it flow and not be restricted by the nuances of reality.
Also, while storytelling, emote as much as you can. If you’re talking about an animal, try to speak in their voice or walk like them. If you’re using a new word, try to act it out so children can understand its meaning. For example, What a ferocious cat! Enact what ferocious would look like to add some fun to the process.
Leave behind external rules
While it might seem tempting and easy to pick up a board game to play with your child, (there are several advantages to board games too) but play as we mean here, in its purest form, does not require any prior rules or fancy equipment.
You can plan the material you would play with such as “Today, we will paint on large cardboard boxes.” It’s better to plan beforehand and keep it a surprise for your child. Children enjoy the element of surprise and curiosity.
Also, the idea of organised sports like tennis or cricket as play is very different. Those are sports where the child needs to conform to rules and the right and wrong ways of being successful.
Those sports can wait till your child is at least 8–10 years old. In the early years, play should be self-driven and allow for imagination and creativity. Play will naturally spark creative thinking, leadership, problem solving and collaboration among children.
Sing and dance
This is the easiest yet most engaging form of play. If you’re struggling with deciding what or how to play with your child, simply turn on some music that your child also enjoys and break yourself into a jamming or dancing session.
Not only is this a great form of physical play, but while being so much fun it is also therapeutic. Once again, let them take the lead. Maybe they want to teach you a new dance move or play a song of their choice. You can always co-create a fun playlist with your child and have a dance session every day or every week as it works for the both of you.
When it comes to playing with your child, think of your own carefree childhood. While an ideal play situation should be with children playing with other children, today, the pandemic has left children with few opportunities to meet and play with other children and parents have become the primary play partners.
Playing with your child should feel natural and fun. A way to be present in the moment with your child without preconceived right or wrong ideas. Do not overthink or over-plan it. You don’t need to spend excessively on games or toys.
When you and your child are ready to play together, find the first suitable thing around the house that seems fun and can be explored. And definitely through play, you would already be closer to building that special bond with your child!
(The author is a long-time educator and the founder of Learning Matters – an early childhood organization in Delhi-NCR.)
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