I’m sure that you’ve been in this situation. You go to the park so that your kids can get some good play. Or you set up a play date with friends that you know they love. Or you run into friends somehwere and there’s a great opportunity for them to get into play at a community centre for half an hour while you chat to your friends (win-win right?). Except that they just can’t fall into play. They hang around you. They pester you. They whine. They squander this great opportunity for fun play – because they’re in the wrong mindset.
The worst is when they get it totally backwards. They can’t figure out how or what to play with their siblings all morning. And just when you’re about to walk out the door, right when you open your mouth to say “Guys — put your shoes on, we gotta go” – you realize that they have this great imaginary game going on. It’s always the way, isn’t it?
I do think that there are strategies for getting play started. I mean — it can be hard to get into conversation with people that you don’t know or haven’t seen in a while, so I’m sure that kids’ play is similar. I think that it’s fine to give kids a starting point sometimes. Play evolves during a session — it changes and morphs into new scenarios with new rules. But to get there, you have to start somewhere. Here are some of my strategies for getting kids started with play.
The most important thing (in my mind) is to get kids communicating somehow. To make them part of a communal group.
- Get them to run together – “Everyone run and touch 3 trees, then come back”
- Get them to find something – “Let’s try to find 15 different rocks and put them into a pile”
- Get them to look for clues – “I think that a squirrel party might have happened in this park! Let’s see if we can find any clues”
- Play categories — This is one of my all time faves. “The challenge — Name 10 fruits! Shout them out” .. when they get to 10 …. they have to run and touch 4 trees, or do 5 laps. (I know — it’s more of a penalty than a prize … but it works … and my goal is always to run them a much as possible to tire them out)
- Give them something cool or unusual to play with. Sticks and rocks usually work well. So do duvet covers and couch cushions.
- Put them in the same boat – “You all go to the same school, don’t you?”. “Does every one here play hide and seek?”
- Become their common enemy. Chasing works – you just gotta figure out how to phase it out when you want to escape!
- Give them one snack to share. Grapes or crackers in one big bowl works well here.
- If all else fails, just hide!!!
If you have other strategies — let me know! It’s gorgeous outside — and I’m always looking for great ways to get them into play.
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