I recently read a lovely post over at Childhood 101 about a quiet day spent at home playing. At the end of her post, Christie asked a question…
“How much time do you spend truly present in playful interactions with your child or children? How do your structure this time into your daily or weekly routine?”
Hmm… well… let me think about this….
For someone who thinks that play is the most important way a child can learn, I don’t really ‘play’ with my kids very often.
It’s not that I don’t play with my kids at all, ever. Or that I don’t value their play. It’s more that I don’t feel I need to be constantly, actively, part of their play.
I don’t just walk away and l ignore them all day or turn on the electronic babysitters…. On the contrary, I try to be available to my kids as much as possible (though I know I could do better on this, actually I could do better on loads of parenting things but I digress…). I try to provide them with interesting, and appropriate toys and materials and safe, child friendly spaces to use and explore them. I try to encourage and enjoy their play and exploration as much as possible
But for the most part, I am busy doing my ‘work’ -house work, writing, designing, crafting as well as playing with them, while they are busy doing their work – the world of playing and learning.
Our work often over laps.
Almost every afternoon someone helps me to make dinner. Even Muski is an expert veggie chopper! All three kids like to help clean. Izzy’s favourite job is to clean the toilet and Zoe likes to wipe down the kitchen cupboards. The girls can sew in a straight line and Muski likes to collect all the scraps.
Sometimes I join in with their work. Sometimes I join in spontaneously because what they are doing looks like fun to me! Sometimes I am asked to help, or to play a specific role. I’m often invited to be the audience, or play the roll of the witch (I always get to be the baddy). Muski often asks me to build legos with him or to help him set up the train tracks. I love to join in a good dance and playing with our huge animal collection is a favourite activity of mine.
Sometimes we work side by side. Often we all sit around the table with the water colour paints, all working on our own thing. Or we sit together at the big desk in the study – I work on the computer and they draw or write or create next to me.
I love that our worlds overlap in this way. I don’t feel pressured to play games that don’t interest me or to entertain my children all the time, and they are free to learn from my work or invite me into theirs. We learn from each other and play and work together.
Despite the fact that my answer to Christie’s question is probably a little different to some, I love it that made me think and reflect on what I do, how I do it and why, and so I had to share!
Everyone is different, every child and family is different, so what feels right for us (a family who’s kids have never been the only child, a family who’s older kids are the same age with the same interests) won’t feel right for everyone. But isn’t it exciting to read and hear and learn from how everyone else handles this parenting gig!?!?
Read the comments or scroll down to add your own:
You know Kate, I don’t ‘play’ with my kids very often at all. I don’t get on the floor and roleplay with them or create magic worlds. They do it by themselves. If that makes me a bad mum, then so be it. Like you, I include my kids in activities of daily living, I talk to them, I help them when needed.
My kids are all happy, healthy and imaginitive. They also don’t rely on me to make games for them or to entertain them. They are independent in their play. Oh, I supervise, don’t get me wrong but I let them make up their own stuff.
I honestly believe that is healthy, having undirected play, for a large part of the day. When they go to preschool and later school, high school and so on, their whole lives will be scheduled. Why should they play my way?
I used to feel terrible guilt because leading experts told of directed play and its importance.
After several children, I know what has worked for us.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, it is very interesting to hear how other people do it. I think I combine what you do – especially having my children helping with everything – and planning activities to do one-on-one with my sons (mostly art and craft).
Kate I like the way you phrase it. Sometimes the kids join in with your work, sometimes you join in with theirs, and sometimes you work side by side. I guess that’s what I do too.
I think the age of the kids has a lot to do with how much we involve ourselves as mums. When they are really young it’s hard! Now that my eldest is three it’s getting easier as she can play independently for longer periods of time.
I think I agree with you and Tiff.
I played a lot more with my eldest (he was our only child for 12 years) than I do with my twins.
Maybe because S & J are at the same stage they play together happily (except when they are squabbling)
Like you I don’t see the need to fix what isn’t broke.
Much of their play is self directed though I do encourage and get things out for them …like playdough & paint (when I can).
I’m doing overtime on the guilt, because I was trained as a play therapist… and I just can’t bring myself to play very much with my son. Especially when I have things on my mind. I spend time with him, of course, and we engage in activities… but to get on the floor and play “dinos” with all the roaring and such, or even cars anymore. I just can’t take it! Kids love the repetition of the same game over and over, and they need that for mastery and development… but I just can’t! Once is enough! But I know I need to do better and try more. So we do lots of interesting things, and I try to get him to play with others. It’s called: delegating. I love it. =)
Lovely post Kate and I also love to learn and see what other families do. I am probably a combination of on the floor and having our worlds overlap.
Your children are so lucky to have you as Mum and each other as siblings and playmates. I wish Immy had a sibling (and I know she would particularly love an older one!) If I knew how great motherhood was I would have started having children many years ago and tried for about 6!
I remember reading a book by Michael Grose that talked about how important it was for parents of singletons to spend time as the child’s playmate. I agree that play definitely happens around everything else and in my case, was talking about a period of time when we had been busy with so much else out of the house that we had little time just to chill out and play. So we played and it was great and I have made a note to be more mindful to actually take more time to be still from life’s busyness and watch or join the play.
I like to do a bit of both. It’s such a joy to watch my girls play alone or together. They are just starting to play a little together (10mth + 3yr old) but for some of our week I also like to structure things so I am part of the playing and learning. Just like you I sometimes get called in to a game to be the audience, have my hair styled or do whatever. Not one day or week is the structured the same Have loved reading about other families. It’s great we’re all different.
Thank you for this! I am an only child and have an only child. I “play” with him plenty but have always allowed a good chunk of time for independent play. However, I have always had a good bit of guilt associated with “not playing” with him!
Caz Makepeace says
Great post. This is something that bothers me quite a lot and I often feel guilty for not playing enough. I try to do the things you talk about here with the overlapping of work and play. i love involving Kalyra in helping me cook and clean and I work while she does colouring or other games.
I have two days a week I now dedicate to her time where I put away my computer and just play. I tell you it is excruciating as I can’t stop thinking of everything I need to do as i am on the floor playing barbie schools.
I now focus on trying to steer her to playing games that don’t bore or stress me out too much and I really do my best to take our quality time together outside to the park or elsewhere so I am not thinking of work and everything I have to do.
I can’t wait for her little sisters arrival so she will soon have a sibling to play with.