As a kid one of my favourite TV programmes was ‘Let’s Pretend’. Each week the presenters would find a number of ordinary household items and contrive to produce a short story featuring them all. It was so simple and yet so inspiring; especially now. Pretend play has always been important to child development; but never more so than now.
When kids are having more uncertainty, more time on screen, more time at home and less directed activities, then it is the perfect time to encourage even more pretend play and notice the positive impact it has on your child.
And not just for toddlers and pre-schoolers – all children and even adults benefit from pretend play. (who doesn’t love getting lost in a storyline of pirates and princesses, pretending to arrive at your own wizarding school or building the best den ever known to man?!!)
And it’s not only good for your kids development to play; it’s good for the whole family! Playing together is an almost magical way to build connection. When we laugh, our body releases oxytocin into our systems and so fun times together are an easy way to decrease the family stress, transform bad moods and give an instant uplift.
Playing together is one of the fastest ways to heal minor relationship stress, help people drop grudges, and bring the family into sync. Play and laughter create a happy feeling in your home.
So embrace the play in your house… play is not limited to playing with lego or a structured games. There are so many different types of play and ways you can play in your family.
When you say the word ‘imagination’ people often just think of children pretending with dolls, pushing dump trucks, or dressing up as princesses or pirates. And whilst young children do spend much of their time in the land of make believe, the imagination is not just reserved for young children playing int his way. Using themes, stories, puzzles, problem solving and physical challenges all involve using our imagination and is valuable whatever our age!
It is because of the development of the imagination during childhood that adults are able to do many of the tasks that daily life demands. Adults constantly use their imagination to help them invent new things, solve problems, make plans, enjoy a film or book see things from others’ perspectives, come up with ideas, and think creatively. After all as Albert Einstein said “imagination is more important than knowledge”!
Therefore, using our imagination is a critical cognitive skill that is used throughout life, and so it is so important that we encourage our children to use their imagination from an early age in childhood and continue to use it as they grow older.
Does your child enjoy a bit of roughhousing? Great! Some researchers in early brain development believe that this sort of play helps develop the part of the brain (the frontal lobe) that regulates behaviour. So instead of worrying that this type of activity will encourage him to act out or become too aggressive, be assured that within a monitoring situation and with clear boundaries and rules that you agree beforehand (if someone says stop you stop, for example) roughhouse play can actually help your child learn the self-regulation skills needed to know how and when this type of play is appropriate.
A kitchen disco can work wonders to lift the spirit in your house. choose a song, crank it up and get moving.
Pretend play provides your child with a variety of problems to solve. Whether it’s two children wanting to play the same role or searching for the just right material to make a roof for the playhouse, your child calls upon important cognitive thinking skills that he will use in every aspect of his life, now and forever. So thinking skills extend into all kinds of play but if you want more structured play activities then jigsaws, puzzles and board games are great for coming together and working together using your thinking.
Even activities such as setting up a domino rally or obstacle course are ways of being creative, thinking up ideas and looking at ways to problem solve.
Bringing play into the every day
Incorporating play ideas in your every day activities and instructions, especially with younger kids, can work incredibly well to not only achieve what you want to with the kids in a moment (get them dressed, them them out of the house, be on time fo ran appointment etc) it can also shift the mood, reduce the stress or difficulties that often overshadow a lot of daily family chores.
For example, an instruction like
“Eat your breakfast now!” could become “Little Gorilla, it’s time for breakfast, come eat your bugs and bananas!”
Instead of: “Get in the car!” why not try:
“Don’t you think your steam shovel wants to get in the car now so he can see the construction site on the way to school?”
Or instead of
“let’s go upstairs for bath” you might say “which dinosaur can get ready for bath the quickest? The T-Rex or the Stegasaurus? I’ll be the Stegasaurus you be the T-Rex”…..
When trying to get somewhere for a time ask them to be in charge of the timer that says we need to leave in 10 minutes.
Given how hard life can be at times, I think that if we seize all the joy, silliness, fun and humour we can get, we will all enjoy daily life more.
The best way to start cultivating more playful fun in your house is to make it part of your routine. You can do this by simply trying new ideas, and if they work, repeating them. That creates fun traditions for your family to enjoy and look forward to. Not all rituals need to be serious or spiritually joyous, some of the best are silly. But don’t wait for special times; any part of daily life can be made into a game.
Lose your inhibitions and start to play now…you will feel the benefits in yourself, notice it in your children and feel it in your family.
So the next time you child asks you to play, instead of automatically saying you can’t, are busy, don’t know how….get involved and have fun!
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