What you should know before you play with your kids

As if there isn’t enough conflicting parenting advice already…Now there’s more.

We’ve all heard the conflicting advice about sleep, tantrums, fussy eating, and just about every other parenting conundrum.

But now there are disputes about children and play.

For a long time, experts have been telling parents about the importance of play for children’s learning.

Children learn through play.

When a child picks up two blocks and bangs them together, jumps in a puddle or draws a picture, they are learning valuable skills that contribute to their growth and development.

What may look like frivolous fun to us is actually our kids learning, growing and developing life skills.

As parents, we’ve also been told about the value of interacting, engaging and involving our kids in everyday life.

Children learn important literacy and numeracy skills when you talk to them about what’s happening in their day and get them to help you do everyday tasks.

We’ve also been encouraged to forget about the millions of tasks we need to do, put aside the iPhone, and instead get down with our kids and do a puzzle together or read a book or dance and sing.

The advice to play with our children has caused some parents a degree of angst and guilt.

Not everyone truly enjoys ‘playing with their kids’, and many parents feel like they don’t do it enough.

But now there’s new advice to say that parents playing with their kids can actually be detrimental to their children’s development.

What? What’s going on here?

Well, here’s the thing. There’s ‘playing with your kids’ and then there’s ‘playing with your kids’.

For children, the real value of play happens when they get to lead the play themselves.

When they pick up two blocks and decide to bang them together or they choose to jump in the puddle and see what happens or they choose to draw a picture of a chicken with green and pink coloured pencils.

Play becomes a way of learning because they are actively choosing how they play. They are experimenting, discovering, and creating.

But when an adult sits down with a child and tells their child to bang the blocks together, tells their child not to jump in the puddle because they’ll get wet or tells their child that chickens aren’t green and pink, they’re yellow, they’re diminishing their child’s opportunity to learn. Adults are now leading the play – not the children. And the adults are inhibiting the children’s ability to learn.

We can guide and teach our children – that is certainly our role.

But being too involved in our children’s play and not allowing our kids enough free time for unstructured, ‘do whatever I feel like’ play, can mean our kids miss out on the value that play offers.

So should you play with your child?

Yes please do play with your kids. But when you do play with your kids, allow them to lead you.

And it’s also valuable to allow your kids time to play by themselves without you. That’s hugely beneficial too.

What do you love playing with your kids?

Jodie Benveniste

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