Blocks and Whiteboard

We finally had a morning at home! Mr. Rancher went to work–hauling cows and changing irrigation water–and we girls stayed home to wash laundry and catch up on playtime. Playtime is an essential aspect of every child’s life, but especially a young child’s life. This time allows for sensory exploration, discovery, and formation of neurological pathways which is a fancy way of saying that play allows children’s minds to organize and sort information for later use. It also allows autonomy, problem-solving, and rest from the adult world and its altogether rushed pace. Both my children thrive on ample playtime that is free from interruptions and foo much structure, but they’re also normal kids who are drawn to screen time, bickering, and the “I’m bored!” trap.

In order to successfully incorporate several hours of quality playtime (what I mean by that is play that is almost argument free, creative, and engaging enough to not be boring) we parents have to get a little creative. Sometimes we have to set the example for our children when it comes to playing.

For example, after two harrowing weeks of work, driving, babysitting, and general going Henley and Becca were a little out of practice of playing with our toys that require imagination and creativity and even more out of practice of entertaining themselves. For any amount of time.  I was close to locking myself in my room just to get away from the constant calls for my attention, hair pulling, and requests for a TV show.  Then a light bulb flicked on in my mind.  I sent the girls to play in their room and ever so quietly eased our whiteboard out from behind the hutch, where it lives while not in use, collected the brand new box of dry-erase markers from the drawer, and set to work scrawling some roads on the face of it.  I capped the marker, set the blocks down from the shelf, then cheerily called the girls to come to the living room.

They took it from there.  They built houses, building, bridges, cars, towers, stores, and on and on.

When interest in building began to wane, I plunked the bucket of markers on the carpet and let them have at it.

This little trick of bringing together two toys that have never been used in concert made for a solid hour (or two) of imaginative play, during which I was able to sort laundry, start laundry washing, fold laundry, put away laundry, and snap some pictures.

Quality playtime is restorative for parents equally as it is for kids.  While I do believe in involving children in my work and training them to be helpful members of my family, I also need some time to accomplish tasks on my own; therefore, playtime, in conjunction with naptime and early morning time, are essential to my success as a mother.  When things are rough I try to evaluate playtime and find solutions to problems.  Are my kids playing enough?  Are they playing too much?  What toys have they been using?  Is it time to switch out materials?  Do they need to be separated and have time to play alone?  Do I need to help them play?

I’m not very good at playing with my kids…I don’t like them bossing me around and telling me just what to say and when to say it.  But I can handle it in short doses.  I generally take the role of modeling a new activity, resolving a conflict, or fixing a story-line hiccup in the middle of a play session.  These 15-30 minute encounters are sufficient enough for me to engage in the activity and show interest, but brief enough that I don’t feel my skin begin to crawl.

Plus, the dad-gum laundry gets folded this way and you know what they say, it’s this way or the highway…


Maybe they don’t say that at all…


Either way, if the kids are happily playing and I’m happily folding then everyone walks away a winner.


Except me, who is now tottering around to various dressers and cupboards to put away the laundry.


Okay, forget the laundry, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Kids need to play.  It’s essential. Period.
  2. Unstructured play with little to no adult intervention is the most relaxing and restorative for kids.
  3. This kind of play requires leadership from the grown-ups and some creativity.
  4. If playtime isn’t going as well as you’d like, consider possible causes for the problems and be open to changing things up.
  5. Don’t feel bad if you don’t like to play with your kids.  Do it anyway but find a balance that works for you.  Take lots of breaks if necessary and explain to them that you are a grown-up and grown-ups just can’t play as long as kids.  We aren’t as tough or fun as they are.

What’s play time like at your house? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks!


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