This week, I’m talking about how you can create a play space that really fires your child’s imagination and inspires your children to play more – without you spending a penny.
This is for you, if you’re like a couple I was speaking to recently.
They said, “Our children don’t play. They complain that they’re bored and yet they have so many toys. And they want yet more things for Christmas but we’re worried that the new things are going to go the way of the old after a month or two. What can we do?”
Watch the video or scroll down to read more…
I totally understand this predicament. I mean, who doesn’t want the happy hum of play in their home? Because if children aren’t really playing, they’re missing out, and so are you.
Because, without play, there’s the lure of electronics. Or possibly the sense that you need to take them to more clubs and activities, to make up for the lack of play.
And play is important for happiness too. One of the fundamental, really important ways that you can create a happy family is to support your child’s authentic self-expression. And there’s nothing more authentic, nothing more self-expressed, than play.
Why is this? Well, at any other time in a child’s life, adults are putting limits on what they can do. For example, a child can’t express themselves by wearing a swimsuit to go out in November. They can’t express themselves by throwing pasta at the walls at mealtime or by playing catch in the back of a car while you’re driving. We have rules about these things, right? And we need to keep children safe and keep a certain amount of order in the home.
But in play, there are no limits. Literally, the sky’s the limit. Play takes place in your child’s imagination and there are no limits there.
So, it’s really important for your child to be able to express themselves through play.
Play is good for you too because when your children are involved in play, you are more free to do other things.
So why don’t children play?
Why does it happen that your children have many toys, but they don’t play?
Firstly let’s consider what children actually need for play:
First of all and most importantly, they need their imagination, because this is where play takes place. Play is a state of mind. It’s an inner narrative. A journey. A state of exploration, creativity and trying things out. And that all takes place in the imagination.
– Safety and Connection
Secondly, they need to feel safe, secure and connected in their lives as a whole and in the context of the play environment that they’re in. If that element is lacking at a children’s party, for instance, your child might not get involved in the play straight away, because they’re not yet feeling safe, secure and connected in that particular context.
And then children need play materials, but probably less than we think and also more rudimentary than we think they require.
Children need space to play. The space in which children can play is just as important as the materials they need to play with.
4 Things in 21st Century Homes that Get in the Way of Successful Play
#1 – Layout
In today’s homes, play things are usually tidied away in boxes and drawers, so as not to be visible. But actually, children need to be able to see materials in order for their imagination to be fired. And the younger children are, the truer this is. But even with older children, seeing materials gives them ideas.
So there’s a kind of tension here, isn’t there, because as adults we often like to have things away and tidy. We don’t like the mess or the garish colours, or just the volume, so stuff gets put away.
But this isn’t ideal for stimulating children’s play.
#2 – Too Much!
These boxes and drawers tend to be very full.
You can compare this with when you’re getting ready to go out, and you’re having to rummage through the drawers. You go past all the pieces of clothing that either don’t fit anymore or you don’t like, in order to find something to wear. But all the rummaging takes its toll on your enthusiasm. And it’s the same for children.
When there’s too much stuff, it’s just not inspiring.
#3 – Limited Space
Of course, we all live in different-sized houses and sometimes we don’t have much space. But I think it’s not just about this. It’s about understanding the ingredients needed for play that I mentioned above: Most people don’t realise that the space for play is every bit as important as the things to play with.
Imagine as a rule of thumb that each item a child has to play with needs an equivalent amount of space around it to facilitate the play. It’s in that empty space that the imagination can begin to work. If everything is rammed together or the play space is too cluttered with furniture or large play items, the imagination just doesn’t have space to work.
#4 – Materials
So many play materials and toys that are available to buy in our 21st century are designed to entertain children rather than support them to play deeply.
I’ve been watching some adverts recently and there’s one toy that stood out as an example of this. It enables you to create a whippy ice cream with plastic cones and some kind of foam. I’m sure that this would totally delight a young child for the first couple of times that they played with it. But after a while, there’s only one thing that you can do with that toy and the child will get bored because their imagination wants to do 1000 things – not just one.
That kind of toy doesn’t give children scope for their imagination to get fired up. They’re too specific and too defined. Your child’s imagination is powerful and needs scope.
So what can you do about this?
Next week, I’m going to give you some more practical tips. But in the meantime, I’d love for you to start thinking…
- Has this inspired you?
- Is there a change you’d like to make?
Here’s a little hint: less is more when it comes to playthings. Maybe you’ll be tempted to take a trip to the charity shop, thinning out what’s there in your child’s resources. You may find that simple action alone supports them to play more.
If you would like some more bespoke help with this, you may have seen last week that I’ve created a new offering which is called Happy Family At Home, involving a visit from me. If play is an area that you’d really like to support your child in developing, this will be a fantastic way for me to support you. I can survey your play areas and give you tips for a really wonderful overhaul, either with spending no money or very little, so that you can hear much more of the happy hum of play in your home.
For more reading about the topic of play, try these posts. Practical Parenting Advice for Bringing More Fun into Family Life, and Do I Need to Play With My Child?
And don’t forget that next week I’m going to share more tips about about how to create a play space that really fires your child’s imagination.
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The 6 Wise Parenting Powers
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