Jun 08

Open-ended play

I have been following Ralphie from Simply on Purpose for a while about open-ended play – because let’s face it lockdown had us all asking, “can the kids not play on their own?” Going into lockdown, a lot of us bought ample amounts of toys, crafts, activities and books to keep the kids entertained… and that seems to be the problem.

We constantly try and keep our children entertained. Busy routines, extramural activities, playdates and structured activities. While there is definitely a place for this, but we never let them get bored. It is the boredom that leads to their creativity being ignited and flourishing.

Where to start:

With creativity and freedom to play, there will be a mess and that is fine – actually goal achieved! All messes can be cleaned and it will happen every time, so ask your children to help with tidying up. Pack away half of the toys, organise and store them so the kids can see what is available. Messy play can be orchestrated or set up outside (to calm your nerves).

Play is enough! At school, playtime is mostly goal-orientated – developing fine motor skills, gross motor skills and guided art projects. At home, play should be encouraged, Let them play as often as possible. After all, ‘Play is our brain’s favourite way of learning.’ – Diane Ackerman

Build memories and rich experiences through play. Remember, practice makes perfect and play is a skill that should be practised (most of the time by the parents more than the kids). Getting your children into the flow will only take a few minutes. Get on their level, literally, sit down next to them and let your child guide you – this should not feel like a forced or planned activity.  This could simply be by playing parallel with them, Ralphie suggest. Let them see that you have your own story with your own toys. Let them hear and see you playing with “your” toys and this will encourage them to start their own game. A quote by Janet Lansbury sums it up ‘when you do play, do less and give more attention.’

Three simple things to remember while attempting this:

  1. Leave the questions for later. Do not constantly ask what they are doing or why. Leave the conversations and questions for later around the dinner table or during a walk to build a connection. You can rather narrate and describe what they are doing with great excitement and enthusiasm. Imitating their play can also lead to prolonged playing time and attention span (have a look at Humanistic Therapy by Carol Rogers).
  2. Do not give commands – your child should lead the playtime, it is not about obeying. Don’t even try and sneak in a form of teaching, for example, “what is this colour or shape?” Do not show any new behaviour or ideas so that the play remains directed by your child.
  3. Absolutely no criticism or corrections, as this will affect their self-esteem and discourage them to play on their own. Rather use positive reinforcement to boost their confidence.

Sheila Eyberg says that interactive play for 5 to 20 minutes a day leads to a deeper and more loving connection between parent and child and less disruptive behaviour – where do I sign up?!

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