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Using Play and “Special Time” To Promote Creativity

Many parents know all about the importance of play, but don’t always have an easy time engaging their children in play at home. 

To get the most from their play, children need:

  • Time alone away from watching eyes to explore the world around them
  • Time with a supportive adult to show what they’ve learned and promote their own creativity
  • Time with friends to socialize, learn new things, and try new skills

Time playing at home with adults is an important part of a child’s development. Many parents ask me, though, how they can best play with their children at home, especially when their children either have trouble playing alone, or play in a rough way that the parent doesn’t feel able to match. 

The solution here is 10-20 minutes, as many times a week as you can manage, of “special time” with you and your child. If you have multiple children, try to make time for special time for each individual child, one at a time.

How to have successful special time:

  • Your Child’s Job:
    • Your child picks the activity! Let your child know that they have your undivided attention and that you are completely available for them, whatever they may want to do.
    • Your child lets you know all the rules/parameters for the game. Whether this is an outdoor race or playing with a dollhouse, you can play together to see how you use the characters, what it takes to win, how to build the structure, etc. 
  • Your Job:
    • Notice, do not ask or suggest. Questions during special time are discouraged because questions can often lead a child down a different direction they weren’t intending. Instead, let your child know what you are noticing. 
      • “I see you are going to the grocery store with these dolls. Hmm. I think I’ll buy some peaches.” 
      • “Wow, what a big tower! I’ll build another tower here.”
        • In these situations, your child may ask you to purchase carrots, or build an additional moat near the tower, if they want you to. They may want to just build their own thing and have you there with them. By noticing and just controlling your own play, not theirs, you allow them this flexibility and the pride that comes with being in charge of their own mini play world. 
    • Parallel Play: sometimes, your child may not want to play with you as much as they want to play with you being nearby. In those cases, if your child picks up legos or a doll, you can pick up a doll nearby or build your own lego structure. This takes the pressure off your child needing to figure out what to do with you, and allows you to have time together. 
  • When the 15-20 minutes are up, you can let your child know that they can keep playing but you’ll go work/cook/spend time by yourself/etc. 
    • You can say “It was so great playing with you today! Thanks for inviting me. What should we play next time?” and end looking forward to the next play session! 

Play is the work of childhood. By joining your child for this important work, you help build up their confidence, get a window into how they’re thinking, and all around promote your child’s wellbeing.

Are you playing with your child at home? Let me know how it’s going!

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