There was a dark and melancholy atmosphere filling our living room.
I would say I was the only person in the room that felt it, but if I am being honest, I think my three kids felt it, too.
This feeling was arising more frequently. It was a state of mourning. I was mourning something that was dying much before I had expected it to expire.
I realized that we were sitting back and just watching playtime prematurely face it’s unfortunate end.
The Untimely Death of Playtime
I would not accept the imminent death of play in our home. In my eyes, my children (ages 8 and younger) were simply too young to be “over” playtime.
However, it seemed they played less and less with their boxes of toys, and their playground swing was used more by the wind than their little bodies.
They grabbed for their tablets instead of their action figures.
Why was this happening? I am not ashamed to admit it, but I remember playing Barbies with my sisters until I was in 6th grade. [Yes, I said 6th grade!]
I tried to remind myself that I grew up in a different time. In the 90’s, we were exposed to little to no technology. We were naturally toy minimalists, and we spent the majority of our time outdoors.
That was just it.
Our modern lifestyle was slowly killing play. Instant gratification in the form of tablets was at their beckoning call. Their schedules were packed with activities, and they were overwhelmed by the mountains of toys in our toy room.
Plans to Revive Playtime
I couldn’t just sit idly by and watch the pitiful and untimely death of play.
I did some research, and luckily reviving playtime would not be as complex and tedious as heart surgery.
These are 6 super effective, yet simple, ways to rescue playtime in your home.
1) Reduce Toy Clutter
It may seem contradictory, but reducing toy clutter has actually been linked to expanded attention spans in children, more creative play, and lessons on sharing.
In a recent study, researchers gave children either four toys OR sixteen toys. They noticed that the children who were given fewer toys played with them in more ways and for longer periods of time. Also, it was noted that the children with less toys played in more sophisticated and imaginative ways. Basically, less toys correlated with better quality play.
This study justifies why you may feel like you have many toys and your children do not seem to play with them. An overabundance of toys only leads distraction and inhibits imagination.
2) Get Silly, Get Dirty, and Get Wild
Sometimes kids need a gentle reminder that they are kids. Model silly behavior for your children. Encourage them to get a little rough and wild.
The Power of Play discusses the many benefits of unstructured play, but I was specifically curious about what is said on rough and risky play.
The experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) explain, “Play is not just about having fun but about taking risks, experimenting, and testing boundaries.” They explain that studies suggest that risky play provides animals and humans with skills that will help them with survival. Of course most of us are not concerned with teaching our children how to escape from predatory lion chasing them down; however, rough and risky play has many other benefits. Learn all about the benefits here.
3) Detox from Technology
Technology just may be the biggest suspect in the playtime murder investigation.
Children easily become addicted to technology, and often grab for their devices over toys almost automatically.
Overusing screen-time robs children of many important parts of childhood. Read about the studies here.
I have tried two very different methods to reduce screen-time in our home, and both worked effectively to restore playtime in our home. Read about them here:
- Detox from screen-time: a one week, cold-turkey technology detox
- Realistic 7 step method: slowly reduce screen-time with a gentle approach
4) Make Outdoor Time a Priority
Nothing makes a kid feel more like a kid than good old-fashioned outdoor play.
Additionally, studies have linked outdoor play to improved mental health, lower BMI scores, and reduced symptoms of ADD. Read about these studies here.
Roll with the seasons, and get your kids outside as much as possible.
5) Limit Scheduled Activities
At one point, my oldest son was playing three sports at the same time. Although he loved them all, it was rare that he had a night off to just be a kid.
We started a rule in our home where our children could pick two total activities. We encouraged them to work hard at the sports or activities they selected, but we also made sure they had “off” time to engage in unstructured play.
I’d be lying if this also didn’t save my husband and I from over-packed-schedule-related insanity.
6) Encourage Friendships
My children have always played best when they are surrounded by other kids. We encourage them to develop strong friendships by opening our home to their friends.
Do you have neighbors that your kids can roll around with outside?
Invite your children’s friend over to play, or meet up at a local park. Get to know your kid’s friends.
Don’t let unstructured play succumb to an early demise in your home. Encourage your kids to remain young at heart and hold tight to childhood.
Playtime should be an essential part of your family’s daily routine. As parents, it is your job to make sure that doesn’t get deprioritized.
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