children and play

T = Trust: Parents, Educators Need to Trust and Let Kids Play

This post was inspired by play-expert Jeff A. Johnson at Explorations Early Learning. The message is parents, educators need to trust and let kids play.

It seems parenting and teaching are balancing acts. There’s so much we would like to do for kids, but at the same time we have to let them learn for themselves. It’s so hard to stand back and keep our hands off the process. At the same time, we have a responsibility to guide, teach, and keep them safe. We are constantly asking ourselves if we should intervene or stand back. The best advice came from one of my teachers, “Let play be your guide. Remember, it’s an Interplay, and PLAY along.”

We need to trust kids as learners, “Child-led free play is valuable for learning and mental health. Allow kids autonomy over their Tasks, Time, Technique, and Team.” (Jeff Johnson, ExEL)We can wonder why kids will take forever to learn to wash their hands and flush, but pick up undesirable words in a flash. It sometimes feel like the Universe is enjoying the joke at the expense of parents and caregivers. But ultimately, we are each of us in charge of what we learn and when. As the grownups we can provide opportunities and experiences for learning, but we have to trust kids.

We also need to trust the process of play. “During play, children are constantly assessing, testing, and expanding their understanding and abilities. Stepping back and trusting this process is extremely supportive.” (Jeff Johnson, ExEL) As adults, somehow we have concluded that work holds more value than play. If only we could see the massive activity at a brain-level when children are at play. Brains are making thousands of connections and are hard at work. That explains the saying that play is a child’s work. Even as adults, our brains learn when we play.

For a play-of-the-day and a resolution that covers many years, we need to trust and let kids play, and the rest of us too. How will it part of the day for you and your child?

Kids Need Different Kinds of Play: What kind does your child need?

kids need different kinds of playChildren follow a similar path of developmental milestones; just like adults have different jobs, kids need different kinds of play. What does yours need?

Being sensitive to children’s needs means recognizing some kids need vigorous outside play, some miss the social aspect of daycare or preschool and would like a friend to play with, and some need quiet, alone time. In the midst of all the great events and presents of the season, if kids seem unsettled, or cranky, it could be we are not recognizing how they need to play.

Figuring out what kind of play meets the needs of the child is tricky. You might get some clues from what you are feeling. Are you craving some alone time? Are you desperate to talk to somebody, anybody? Kids do not have the same personalities as parents and caregivers but asking yourself these questions and listening to the answers may trigger some hints about solutions.

You may have already suggested about ten things to your child and have had lukewarm or negative responses but something will click. Following, are a few suggestions you might not have tried.

kids need different kinds of play

Book and Lap: A few minutes snuggled on a lap sharing a book or story is often welcome. There’s been so much going on and a lap is a safe, secure space. It’s a positive way to get a few minutes of attention and connection.

Blanket Fort: Crawling under a table or behind a sofa could be an indication a child wants some distance but still be included in the action. A quick fort is a sheet, blanket, or really big tablecloth spread over a table. Kids can crawl under for some world-within-a-world time.

Puzzle It Out: Kids may be feeling insecure and uncertain about the changes in the routine. A puzzle or train set up in the middle of the kitchen or living room gives the child something to do while being close to the adults. There’s a chance the adults will pop-in every now and then to put in a piece of the puzzle or have a turn. Blocks or construction toys are other possibilities. The very same train in a child’s room is not the same toy spread out in the kitchen. Kids need different kinds of play but that could be the same play just in another place.

what children learn as they play with trains

Playdate: Any comments from your child about friends from daycare, preschool, or play programs? You might suggest inviting a friend over to play or watch your child’s reaction. If your little one lights up like a Christmas tree, that’s a good indication of a need to connect with a friend. On the other hand, if your child is reluctant or unenthusiastic, that might not be the best choice either.

Water in the Sink or Tub: Warm water play can meet many different needs. It seems to wash away tension and stress and soothe worries. For minds spinning with curiosity and questions, it invites exploration and discovery. Run some water in the sink or tub, toss in some small containers and spoons, and let kids play. Any new toys that could use a wash and rinse? One thing about water play, clean up doesn’t mean more of a mess. Usually…

math in the bath

Kids bouncing off the walls doesn’t necessarily mean they need vigorous, loud play-time, preferably outside. That might just be the ticket to restore some sanity in the day, for the adults if not for the kids. Part of the problem is kids can’t tell us in words what they need, only in behavior. Whatever it is, play will be part of the answer. Kids need different kinds of play. How do you figure out what kind your child needs?



After Christmas –  The Best Gift for Kids is PLAY

The day after Christmas comes without the celebration but, without doubt, the most wonderful present of all because the best gift for kids is play. Hasn’t that been the reason for giving them new toys and adventures, to encourage and extend their play? So today’s play-of-the-day is do that, to play.

best gift for kids is play

Sometimes, the adults are discouraged because the kids seem to want to play with the boxes instead of the toys. Play with the boxes can be what some kids need most right now. With all the changes and disruptions to regular, ordinary routines, many kids have to re-establish some control and order. They can do that with a box because they are in charge of the play. They direct what happens, make the rules, and create the play.

play with box

Other children may need to be outside and channel their tremendous energy and excitement. If the weather isn’t forcing an inside day, kids can dress for the temperature and conditions and head outside. Is there a new sleigh to try out on the snow? Or, maybe there was a bike that came for Christmas. For a lucky few, the day could be fine enough to go outside and ride bikes. Half an hour in the backyard or at a park or playground gives an opportunity for some vigorous physical play. A hockey stick and a ball are great toys for some outside play time.

value of play for kids

If kids have been around lots of other people, they may need some quiet, alone time. Several sheets of paper and new crayons or markers could be how your child wants to play for a while. While this doesn’t sound complicated, in some houses finding a quiet out-of-the-way space might be tricky. If needed, spread a blanket or sheet over the backs of a couple of chairs to give a child a small, quiet area for play.

crayons coloring play

New books are also great for play accompanied with cuddles on a friend’s or relative’s knee. There’s nothing like a lap for cuddles and the feeling of a secure base before setting off for more explorations.

reading to children

As parents and caregivers, you will have a pretty good idea of how your child needs to play. It could be inside or outdoors, active or quiet, with others or alone. The best gift for kids is play. How will you provide some time and space today for play?



The Story of the Last Playground

To kids, playgrounds are treasure, and the story of the last playground brings this message to our ears, our eyes, and our hearts. Children have been terribly affected by the war in Syria. Their schools and playgrounds have been bombed out of existence. The children are hungry, sick, and terrified. As they look around them, … Continue reading The Story of the Last Playground

Before I Go to Kindergarten #14: Children’s Independent Play with Toys

Are you wondering how the item: children’s independent play with toys can be a ‘requirement’ for kindergarten? How kids play gives developmental clues. Play on the outside reflects what’s happening inside physically, mentally, and emotionally. Let’s watch kids playing with puzzles. When kids first start playing with puzzles, they need large pieces made of wood, … Continue reading Before I Go to Kindergarten #14: Children’s Independent Play with Toys

Before I Go to Kindergarten #9: Play and Group Skills for Kids

Before going to kindergarten, preschool, daycare, or any other play programs, some play and group skills for kids will make their life a lot more fun. We might think that kids come already knowing how to play. To some extent this is certainly true. Even animals like to play and have fun. There are wonderful … Continue reading Before I Go to Kindergarten #9: Play and Group Skills for Kids

When You Think About It, Olympics Celebrate PLAY

This month is the start of the Olympics and underneath the Games, the Olympics celebrate PLAY. We don’t think about that basis as we watch and cheer. After all, the athletes work incredibly hard during training, sacrificing much over the years. But way back, it all started with play. There is no doubt the Olympic … Continue reading When You Think About It, Olympics Celebrate PLAY