Time for Play

I am hearing from a lot of parents about how hard it is to now be your child’s teacher, especially as you try to hold down your job from home.  

Years ago, one of my children got swine flu, and was home for over a week. Of course, that meant the other was home as well. As parents, we survived by using objects from around the house to keep them busy. Fortunately, my kids have always liked to build. They took leftover ends and pieces of wood, and glue and nailed them into all kinds of fantastic vessels. We cut up egg cartons to be glued and painted into animals enough for an inside forest, and we turned boxes into buses and fire engines. (That last project backfired when my daughter somehow managed to fit a hand held shower to the truck when we weren’t looking, and flooded the bathroom and hall.

Johanna, on right, before she got to flooding the bathroom and hallway.

I share this because right now, we are all trying to figure out how to manage time at home and screen time. So long as we are “staying at home,” we know much of our children’s connection and learning may come through screens. But how we use those screens can affect our learning, our family life, and our mental health. 

Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician and director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital said: “Boredom is the space in which creativity and imagination happen.” And, as any or our terrific early childhood educators will tell you, children’s first job is play, and good play involves creativity and open-ended exploration and self-direction.  

Play looks different at different ages. A little yogurt and cheerios on a tray might be sufficient sensory stimulation for some really young kids. 

Older children who like to build might be inspired by all the cat mazes and climbing structures made out of old cardboard boxes. 

Check out an example of a fantastic cardboard cat structure HERE 

Building challenges and develops different capabilities: problem solving, spatial reasoning, creative design, persistence. It can make you laugh. And, it can lead to all kinds of other questions and investigations. Why do cats like contained spaces? Will cats sit in any small, defined space you create? What evolutionary purpose did this serve? Can we find out online?

Why do cats love confined spaces?

This time spent confined to our homes is hard. My own family is struggling to figure out how to manage four simultaneous zoom calls in a place with minimal internal soundproofing. But play is human, and taking a little time to play is a way to celebrate each other and to let off some steam. 

Here is an example of a home play packet (click here) put together by educator Kristi Mraz. Pay particular attention to the questions she suggests, to her tips on talking to your young people about their play, and to her thoughts on how to respond when they say they are bored. These types of questions and tools can help build children’s independence and ability to manage their own learning.

Here are some additional tips from Dr. Rich for managing screen time: 

Screen Time and the Brain (click here)

His big advice: “Fire was a great discovery to cook our food, but we had to learn it could hurt and kill as well.” Screen time and Broadband are essential 21st century tools, and people who don’t have them are locked out of the 21st century economy. But we do need to learn how to balance and manage them to maintain our health and wellbeing. 

Stay well and play often,