Lisa Clarkes take on the importance of play.

Last night I mentioned how, when faced with behaviour from my toddler that is challenging me, I try to think of other mums I aspire to be like. I’m part of several Gentle Parenting groups on facebook and these are such a great help and inspiration. Let’s face it, we all live with our phones in our hands, and by being an active member of groups like these, it ensures my social media newsfeeds are filled with posts that feed my soul and are relevant to me.

I’ve been reflecting alot on the importance of prioritising play lately, and I currently have a half-complete blog post on the topic waiting for me to finish it. So when I read this brilliant post by an incredible mum called Lisa Clarke, I was very pleased when she gave me permission to share.

Play by Lisa Clarke

Posted in Gentle Parents Unite Facebook group.

Play is vital to the developing brain and to a child’s early stages of learning. The opportunity to freely and regularly engage in unstructured play provides an extensive list of benefits for our children.

During play children are active, engaged and learning. Their confidence and abilities expand and increase as they are given opportunities to exercise their minds and bodies, developing physical skills and a better understanding of the world around them.

Play gives children chances to discover and grow their creativity, problem solving skills, teamwork and social skills and furthers their ability to communicate and create bonds with peers. It also can boost confidence and self-esteem, as well as increasing resilience and the capacity to persevere through hardships.

Play has the ability to make our children feel strong and empowered. They can act out a world entirely of their own creation where their powers and abilities are endless. They can make their own rules and find ways to overcome the insecurities and fears that may arise throughout childhood.

There are endless opportunities to express and process different emotions through play, which can also be a joyful preventative to meltdowns as children find ways to release their inner tension, feelings and energy.

There are few more effective and loving ways to build a connection with our children than by immersing ourselves in their world of play. Silliness through play allows us to laugh together and can instantly break through barriers of tension between us. Play provides us with countless opportunities to communicate and brings us closer to understanding the inner needs of our children.

Much of our world has been manufactured in a way that is best suited to our busy adult lives. As children have been designed to spend their days playing, attempts to rush them along to our busy schedules can be met with frustration or defiance, especially in transitions to less exciting activities. Play is the perfect way to combine our separate needs and to turn these situations into fun, connecting games rather than power struggles.

A common example of this can be when it’s time to leave the playground. Instead of it being a chore to leave the playground we can turn it into a game. Come up with an obstacle course to race through and see who can be the first back to the car, find out who can get there with the silliest walk or pretend a dinosaur is chasing you and the car is dinosaur-proof.

Role play is an extremely diverse area of play, it can be anything the child wants it to be! Some role play may be wild fantasy situations, others are more like real life or anywhere in between. During role play children can develop their communication, exercise their imagination, tell stories, express their emotions and expand on their skills in conflict resolution. Listening deeply to the stories children tell during imaginative roll play can give us incredible insights into their thoughts and feelings.

Whether a child is turning a playground into a pirate ship and hunting for treasure, a magical fairy casting spells or are a chef cooking pretend food their minds are constantly learning as they engage in this play.

Power play can be a wonderful activity to turn to when children are feeling fearful. When children are expressing regular feelings of fear or helplessness in their everyday lives we can use this style of play to allow them to feel all powerful, at least for a moment. Feeling capable, strong and in charge is of enormous benefit to someone who has been feeling so vulnerable.

An example of how to initiate power play might be for your child to become a powerful, growling creature while you cower back in exaggerated fear. They can chase you, roaring as you squeal and try to escape them and revel in the feelings of power they have for those brief moments.

Children have an abundance of energy and emotions! When they have no healthy or appropriate outlet to release their energy it can show up in aggression, roughness or by being destructive. Rough and tumble physical play is an ideal way for children to burn up this excess energy while also connecting with a parent or loved one. Rough play can also be tied back into power play as a children overpowers the one they are wrestling or having a pillow/sword (pool noodle) fight with.

Sensory play refers to play which engages a child’s senses. It is extremely important for their brain development to have the time and opportunity to explore the senses their bodies have. For this reason, children will find often find sensory activities whether you provide them or not! One example of this could be a child squishing their food between their fingers, playing with it in their mouth and flinging it over the floor.
The more sensory opportunities we provide, the more appropriate options a child will have to explore. Some examples of how this could look for young toddlers include playing in dirt, mud or sand. Play-doh, finger paint, slime and cooked noodles can also be satisfying for a child seeking out tactile sensations. Raw pasta, beans or rice can be used for pouring or in a container to stimulate the visual/auditory senses. Bubbles can be as visually appealing as they are fun, as can experimenting with making shadows.

As children grow and their physical skills develop there are few things more exciting than testing those new skills out! This often shows up as a child who is climbing and jumping on couches, beds and other furniture. As well as creating as many “yes spaces” as possible to allow them to enjoy this area of play, it is vital to offer other appropriate venues to do so. Playgrounds with lots of climbing, trees to climb or an obstacle course set up in the house or yard can present perfect opportunities to engage in this style of play as a child hones their new abilities.

Every area of play mentioned above can be provided to our children without any excessive financial cost. Children are masters at finding play in any and every situation, no matter how many material things we are able to provide them with.
When we start to look into the toys that can be bought for our children, the ones with the most value from a developmental standpoint are “open-ended toys”. Toys that foster our child’s imagination and can be used in a variety of ways. Some examples of open ended toys include building blocks, car/train tracks, play kitchens or markets, tunnels/tents for climbing through or hiding behind or dolls and toy animals. This list could go on forever! Any toy that allows room for your child’s own interpretation can fit under the umbrella of an open ended toy.

Children are incredibly resourceful at finding a way to play in almost any situation. We only need to provide them with the time and opportunities. If we can just follow their lead and engage with them in joy and silliness we will find never ending chances for fun and connection.

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