The school year is now in full swing, October is here, and we are embracing the routines and lunch making, teacher e-mails, and extra tired kiddos. School work in the evenings, and soccer games on the weekends, time is scheduled richly and it’s easy to begin to live in the routine, to feel like you are just keeping up. The past few weekends we’ve made a point of clearing a day in the schedule to Just. Play.
For our family that can take two different paths, it can mean a day fully at home. Unplugging from social media and our phones in favor of time spent on the floor, really listening, and making up as many ridiculous voices for our new Lego Friends as we can. The second option is to get outside! I’ve written before about how much more easily our family connects when we leave our four walls, school work, to-do list, and projects behind, in favor of nature.
The benefits of play have been researched and proven time and time again, play gives our children better language, more social skills, changes and grows the prefrontal cortex and helps to wire the brain’s executive control center (that plays a critical role in regulating emotions, plan making, and problem solving). Play, according to Sergio Pelis (a researcher at the University of Lethbridge) “Play… Is what prepares a young brain for life, love, and even schoolwork.”
Filling our children up with some great food, and the chance for free play and big adventure on the weekends has nothing but benefits to us, and them!
10 Way to Encourage Play, and Connection!
- Pick a place you all want to visit. In this post I’m sharing images from two different adventures. One, a local Pumpkin Patch, that provided us with all sorts of easy play options, right there. Another, a beautiful beach near our home, that left more for us to explore, hike, play, and let the kids lead the way with imaginative play. (Ever play baby coyotes looking for their mama on a real cliff? That will get your heart pumping!)
- Say Yes! When we were packing up for Rosario Beach, my daughter was set on bringing her baby doll/its diaper bag. I wanted to say no, encourage her to play out in nature, and make sure that she was sticking with my view of “play” (hiking! rock stacking and identifying!). Instead, I said “sure!” and we all had so much fun hearing all about the babies adventures in the tall grass, her imagination going wild as she played all the ways the baby was enjoying “seeing the world for the first time!”. It allowed her an easy way to access play in a familiar way, in a new spot, and gave us all a prop that helped us easily drop into her play world.
- Pack extra food and clothes! We’ve had many (many) outings thwarted by an over hungry kid. So now we pack a bunch of snacks, extra water, and a spare outfit for everyone, everytime. We partnered with CLIF Kids and packed CLIF Kid Zbar’s on these adventures. CLIF Kid is dedicated to reclaiming play all year long. And are encouraging boys and girls everywhere to get back outside, push their boundaries, and feed their adventures. These bars were perfect for the way our girls play on the go. They rarely want to sit down to eat, so having something that goes with them on their adventures means they get to keep going, but not have the crash at the end once their bodies assert their hunger over their excitement. I also keep extra clothes in the car – you never know when wading into an October ocean may happen, or a happy hour spent digging in red dirt will occur. Having back up food and clothes may feel like over preparation with school aged kids and a close by location, but they can be a life saver and an adventure extender time and time again.
- Be quiet. Kids will lead your play. They are natural born players! The more we, as parents, can just be quiet and follow along, the more you can all find easy ways to connect together. Even when that means quite a lot of silence, trust that, in that quiet, kiddo brains are going and going strong. Pay attention and let there be some silence and then the play will just happen.
- Get down on their level! We learn this when they are toddlers, but often lose it when they begin to creep up to waist height. It’s still important. Getting down to their level, looking them in the eye, and engaging with what they are saying (even if it’s super out there and weird!), will serve to connect you deeper and open more trust between you two.
- Put away your phone. This one is hard. And obvious. And hard again. Dedicating two hours to putting your phone fully away can do amazing things for your play, your relationships, and our attention spans. The longer I go without my phone (I am so attached to it. . . ) when we are out adventuring, the more I notice/feel/enjoy and the better and more natural my play beings to be (this is true at home too!).
- Remember how much you enjoyed play. 70% of Mom’s played outside when they were kids, 31% of their kids play outside today. For me, it’s easier to prioritize play, adventure, and engaging in places for play (Soccer fields! Play grounds! Beaches! Hikes! Parks! Your own front stoop or yard!) when I remember my own experiences playing, I remember spending hours a day combing the green-belt behind my best friend’s house, coming home, covered in mud, hungry and grinning from a day of active play! Wanting to give my kid’s those experiences helps keep me planning trips, and creating engaging situations where they can play.
- Know your limitations, play accordingly. Do you struggle to get playing? Go somewhere that really sets you up for success. The pumpkin patch had a place to launch pumpkins, pet baby animals, ride ponies, and play in a big pen of shucked corn kernels. Going somewhere that had activities already set up can make it really easy to engage in play with your kid, even if you haven’t exercised those play muscles in long time. A couple of adventures like that and you will possess better knowledge of how your kid likes to play and how you can easily connect with them in that play.
- Ask your kid what they want to do. This seems obvious, but sometimes as parents we forget to check in as we schedule and schedule. It can be as easy as a few options “Hey, are you wanting to head to a stormy beach or the mountains to play?” or, if you aren’t a PNW mountains/beach lover with those close at hand, you can ask, “what kind of space for play do you like?” (local park, or a new park you haven’t been to, a trail, the new kids museum, or something else that you haven’t heard of and they want to check out! Be open to their suggestions.). With google at our finger tips we have so many ways to find play all around us.
- PLAY! Obviously, to play, you have to play. Allow space for silly, excited, loud, ridiculous, what might feel embarrassing. It’s worth it! You can do it! Shake off your grown up’ness and really play! Maybe the only way you know how is to sing the hokey pokey, well… sing it loud and proud and get wiggling. Or maybe you’re more comfortable behind a ball – bring a soccer ball to kick around, or a frisbee to toss. The more you are into it, the more likely it is your kids will be too.
Packing our girls up for adventure means packing snacks I know they will eat. My girls are CLIF Kid Zbar obsessed, and are especially into the Goblin Chocolate and Iced Lemon Cookie flavors. The bars are packed with nutrients for active kiddos, are organic, non-GMO, are the right size for their little bodies, and have no high fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors (or synthetic preservatives). My kids aren’t big eaters when there is fun to be had, so having flavors that they really want (lemon and chocolate!) is paramount to actually getting something with some fuel and energy into their bodies. Finding a snack that can compete with a petting zoo, rock cliff, and a train ride? YES PLEASE.
To see more fun examples of play, and be for sure reminded of your own kid adventures, check out this video from CLIF Kid!
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.