Play, play and more play
Add a bit of breathing space to your day
We often put play at the bottom of the list when we are planning our time. Sometimes, we hear the message that play isn’t important, that work matters more. When we have to juggle home life and school life and work life (and all of these have had to happen at home at the same time!), then planning time for play seems silly. But it isn’t. Allowing chunks of time when children can play without being organised or directed, is a really important way of building some breathing space into every day.
Playing is the way we have evolved to learn about the world. All animals play and the more playing that happens, the better the survival rates and the larger the brains. Play gets our brains into a relaxed but engaged place where learning happens easily. The enjoyment is the motivation.
Play can be a safety valve where feelings and frustrations can be expressed through movement, pretending and making. Play can be that place where worries are forgotten and all we have to think about is the here and now. Play allows us to explore being in charge, being frightened or being someone else.
Children play in lots of different ways: making, pretending, chasing, building, moving, exploring. Through their play, they practice key skills like negotiating. They try out different roles, can be scared when it’s safe to be scared. Mistakes aren’t a problem and they can try again as often as they like.
As adults, when we play alongside them, we get a unique view into their world and, most importantly, we build connection. Social engagement, through play, is such a powerful way to let children know and feel that we are with them and we see them. And when we are playing monsters or hide and seek with children, we let them know that they can cope with different feelings and show them how feelings can change from excitement to fear to anticipation and relief.
So the next time the lego is all over the floor or a stick is a magic wand, watch for a moment and then allow yourself to join in. You might start by noticing what you are seeing and comment on this – “It looks like you can do magic!” Remember, it’s not your play – you are trying to join their world. Sometimes, copying their movements and checking in with “is this how to do it?’ or “how would you like me to do that?’ can reassure children that we don’t have an adult agenda. We simply want to be with them.
Play is children’s natural way of communicating. When things are tough, an adult may seek out counselling or a talking therapy. When things are tough for children, they tell us in their behaviour and how they are. Children can tell us so much through their play and the way they express themselves through music, art, drama or movement. We need to allow the space and time for them to do this, to find their voice and do their thing.
Play isn’t a luxury, it is one of life’s essentials.
Fiona Holiday is a Certified Play Therapist, registered with Play Therapy UK, who offers individual and group play therapy and filial play coaching. She is a former teacher and local authority advisor who delivers training and consultancy to early years settings, schools and other organisations.