Friday, June 24, 2011

Letter to the BookChook - Worried about Play

Letter to the Book Chook - Worried about Play
by Susan Stephenson,

Hi J!

I believe what you describe is true of many kids nowadays. There's so much entertainment on offer, who can blame kids for being entranced? But like you, I believe play is crucial to their development, and they need to be encouraged to play.

I used to teach in primary schools. Kids would often come up to me and ask, "Can you make us a game?" I'd start them off with some kind of scenario from literature usually. Often, I would be the wicked witch (the huge wart on my nose helped.) I'd look into my mirror, (a handy bird bath in the playground) and see that Snow White was fairest of all, or that an invasion of elves was coming. I'd ponder aloud about my future actions. Pretty soon the children were racing away to build cubbies, or capture elves, or become elves trying to set traps for me.

Once I'd prompted them, they mostly didn't need me. Oh, I'd give an evil cackle if I passed them by perhaps, but the play was theirs and usually changed from what I'd started anyway.

I really don't believe in adults trying to shape children's play. But sometimes kids need a start. Even in a school playground, where there are no screens as distraction, they may need a start. And more drastic action might be needed for home to break a screen habit.

My suggestion would be to start with one evening maybe, and for you to explain to the kids that tonight is screen-free. Then the adults and kids could do things together. The kids will be keener that way. How about teaching them how to play charades, or reading a story together then making a puppet show about it, or playing a board game like Pictionary even? Try painting again, but everyone has a go. Choose a painting activity like printing with objects from the kitchen, or leaf printing, or just make wild designs in finger paint. Show the kids there is no right or wrong, and no need to have a representation of anything. Share your own efforts and praise them for having a go.

Build in a treat like making homemade popcorn togther, or go outside and cook marshmallows over the fire. If you start with one night a week, then add more ideas and more times, and encourage your kids as often as you can to play, imagine, create, I'll bet they start to choose play over screen at times. And I'd definitely stick to that family play night anyway - it's good for all of us!

As for daytime play, I know many parents believe in limiting screen time. Again, I suggest you lead the way by example. If possible, go for a bike ride after school or walk to a local park with your kids. Maybe you can play hide and seek together, or teach them some skipping games.

If it's too wet/cold/hot to go outdoors, take a long look at the children's toys. How about a LEGO building contest with a silly prize for the craziest/tallest/fastest construction? Do you have some oddments of material and old clothes the children can have for a dress up box? They like movies, so I bet they would enjoy making up their own stories and acting them out. Maybe the kids can have one TV show after play time, and when homework is done? I'd also suggest a trip to your local library to raid the art/craft section and find some projects the kids will enjoy doing. Make sure while you're there to borrow some great children's picture and chapter books to share - quality children's literature is a wonderful way to enrich play and vocabulary.

Screen time can also be turned into play time with some encouragement. Say you've watched a cartoon about the Princess and the Frog with your kids. When it's over, think about how you can re-tell the story through play, or make a game about some aspect of the story. All sorts of media can be fuel for imaginative and creative play, even if some chooks prefer books!

Do you have any advice for J?

(Original image from Morguefile, adapted by BookChook.)
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