Let’s Play

Today’s blog post is contributed by guest blogger, Esther Schiedel.  We hope you enjoy the read, and we appreciate Esther’s willingness to write for us!

I’ve just been reading about research on the value of play. Not that I needed convincing—I love to play! But since parents often worry about ensuring that their children will do well in this complicated world, it may be reassuring to know that play is good for your children. It’s also good for you.

Some of my favorites and their benefits:

Peek-a-boo and other hiding and finding games: Infants love to engage with people. Researchers describe it as “call and response.” The infant does something—looks at the adult for example, and the adult looks back, responding to the need for interaction. Peek-a-boo plays with that looking/not looking relationship. Other hiding games help the child understand object permanence and spatial relationships.  The key thing to remember is to always look to the child and respect when they need to disengage: the baby may turn away or start to fuss. Paying attention to another person’s social cues is a vital skill— which some people find easier to learn than others. Playing peek-a-boo is a wonderful opportunity to work on that—for babies and adults.

Monster, Mad Dog, and other chase games: Always popular at our house so I was pleased to read that this sort of activity can help children with physical and social skills—such as self-assertion and anger management. The caution here is identifying the difference between fear and excitement and terror—again the key is to look to the child to see how they are reacting. I was reminded of a scene in the Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She describes Pa pretending to be a mad dog and chasing his daughters around the room. At one point he corners them by the woodbox; they are so frightened that Laura leaps up over the woodbox, dragging her sister Mary with her. “And at once there was no mad dog at all. There was only Pa standing there with his blue eyes shining, looking at Laura.”

Role reversals: Teacher, Parent, Policeman and other roles let a child experiment with having power. These also allow a parent a (partial) break from responsibility. Acting as an assistant to your child’s play (finding Lego pieces, combing doll’s hair) gives them positive attention and can be a meditative practice for you. Simply focusing on your children as they play without trying to direct or get involved is entertaining and an easy way to give them attention. A foundation of the parenting curriculum The Incredible Years is observing and describing your child’s activities as they play—like a sportscaster describing a game. Your positive attention to activities that your child enjoys builds their sense of competence.

Active games and sports can be wonderful for both adults and children. With young children, and those who are not particularly well coordinated (I fall into that category) playing for fun and not keeping score is a good idea. However, watching as my grandson’s baseball team was totally overpowered by a team that was older, I mused that learning to keep calm and to keep trying to do your best is a valuable life skill. As is learning to be a gracious loser. And a respectful winner.

Board games: Speaking of competition, there are many board games nowadays that are co-operative. Instead of playing against each other, you team up to play against some element in the game. These range in complexity from those geared to 2 year-olds to adults. Some are mere chance but others involve strategies. You can also make some traditional games into cooperative ones—such as Memory.

Enough of reasons. Let’s play!

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