A grandma and I were talking about the good old days when we used to play outside in the street with the other kids on the block. We both reminisced about how much fun it was to let our imaginations take over and make up games with whoever showed up to play. She observed that today’s children have such structured lives. They go to lessons and take team sports but there are fewer and fewer opportunities for unstructured play. Many children simply don’t learn how to play.
Just after our conversation, I saw a post by Jill Vialet of Playworks about helping kids learn how to enjoy unstructured play. Vialet, who is the president and founder of Playworks, believes that play creates essential opportunities for children to explore their imaginations, to connect with other people and to stretch and grow physically, emotionally and socially. I thought her advice was very helpful.
Vialet says she often hears from schools that recess is the most challenging part of the day because disciplinary problems can arise. With just a few tweaks and some enthusiasm, recess can become a positive part of the school day, allowing kids the opportunity to run around, gain confidence, learn teamwork and create bonds that last beyond the classroom.
Grandparents inherently understand this, and often ask how they can help. Here are three things you can do to encourage your grandchild to be physically active and to bring helpful tools to their recess yard and their own back yard.
3 Ways to Teach Your Child to Play
- Teach your child Rock-Paper-Scissors. The rules are simple: Rock smashes scissors; scissors cut paper; paper covers rock. This simple game can be used to resolve most minor conflicts on the playground. It’s also a good way to decide who has to walk the dog, unload the dishwasher, set the table when the kids are arguing whose turn it is and you have no idea yourself.
- Learn rules to some basic playground games. Tag is an oft-maligned playground game, but it needn’t be. When played safely it’s a great way to get kids moving. Rather than having them tag traditionally, start by teaching them butterfly touches, where they gently tag on the shoulder with their wiggling fingertips, much as a butterfly would light on a flower. Right there, you eliminate the pushing and shoving that can end up with conflict or playground casualty.
- Get out and play with your child. Go ahead and be the goofy grown-up, while the kids are in charge of the game. There is no better way to encourage kids to play than to set an example yourself. Play by their rules and enjoy the new insights you get from looking at play through their eyes. Even playing with your kids for a few minutes is enough to get the game going, and once the game is going, you’ll be amazed by how long they can keep it going with rock-paper-scissors and a solid understanding of the rules.