Maria Montessori famously said, “Play is the work of the child.” Through playing, children learn to socialize, they learn practical life skills, they develop problem-solving skills and empathy for others. So as a parent, whose job is to guide and nurture your children, your best strategy is to get down and play with them!
When you play with your child, you are helping them with their job of exploring and discovering the world. At the same time, you are modelling social skills and providing an opportunity for secure interaction. And just as play helps your child come to terms with difficult emotions, through either expression or distraction, you can also build your bond with the child, by gaining insight into their observations or fears.
Tickle fights and chasing games all help release all that pent up energy in a fun way. Without a healthy release the energy will explode somewhere unexpected or unwelcome! Ball games develop physical skills like coordination, while yoga and swimming help children appreciate what their bodies can achieve. Best of all, your child will love the natural physical interaction with you, and you are teaching them the joy of being fit and healthy.
Artistic, creative games
Painting, drawing and handcrafts can all be great soothing and companionable activities for both of you. Your child will learn some valuable skills and some healthy techniques of self-expression, and the activities are more enjoyable if you are “working” alongside them with your own paper and brush. Play your own version of “Mr Squiggle” – let your toddler/ child start the drawing so you can finish it – excellent mental challenge for your creative brain and no real drawing talent required!
Small children are fascinated by basic scientific facts that we learn to take for granted – seeds growing into flowers in a pot, magnets connecting, water boiling in a kettle or freezing into solid ice, egg whites whipping into foam. Look around at your everyday activities and see what you can share with your kids to introduce the magical logic of the world. Cooking is a great way to demonstrate practical science to smaller kids while older children can do experiments such as growing crystals or changing the colour of flowers.
Housework might seem tedious to you, but rather than model that attitude to your children, encourage them to see the fun in sweeping, folding and dusting! If play is the work of a child, then your work can become play. As a bonus, your child will have a greater appreciation for what is involved in managing a home. Remember a child’s attention span is short, so don’t expect to achieve much but it’s always worth reinforcing the message that these chores are FUN!
Participating in your child’s imaginary games either as an active player or as the audience, gives you an insight into your child’s view of the world. Hand your child a phone and you will have an uncanny view of how you sound when talking to your friends (“Oh, I knooooowwww!”) Not sure how things are going at preschool? Initiate a pretend game of being at preschool, and your preschooler’s imagination will open a window into that world.
The best benefit of playing with your children is the sheer fun you will have as you both gain an insight into each other’s view of the world while reinforcing how much you enjoy spending time together.