Many parents believe that when they sit down to “play” with their kids, they should have a craft or something similar to do with them. Yes, crafts are fun! It is a good way to spend time with your kids and they learn many skills from this. This activity is structured and directed by you, the parent.
There is a lot of value in unstructured play between the parent and the child. You know how you hear time and time again, try to spend one-on-one time with each child individually and you wonder how you will ever be able to find the time to do this. Well, playing is a really easy way to have this one-on-one time and strengthen bonds between you and your child. It requires no planning, no structure, no scissors, no glue, paint or any other material. All it takes is a regular time, even as little as 20 minutes per week to play with your child.
Now here’s the really easy part. Sit down on the floor with your child, surrounded by some toys and then just let your child decide what to play with. As your child is playing, give him/her your full attention and just comment on what is happening in the play. “I see that you’re taking the baby for a walk in her stroller.” but don’t make any suggestions of how the play should go. Just listen and watch and try to put yourself in your child’s world. See the play through their eyes and you will also get a glimpse of how they view the world. Your child may ask you to take on a role in a play scenario and do as s/he directs you to do. It may mean that you have to use a different voice to go along with the character that you’re playing. Abandon yourself to the play while following your child’s lead. It’s okay to ask your child how s/he would like you to act or what s/he would like you to say if you’re not sure. This says to the child, “You’re important and I want to do this right, just the way you want it.” You are after all in the child’s world now.
This type of play is invaluable for strengthening the parent/child bonds. You’ve carved out a time to be completely there for your child and your child feels valued. By witnessing your child’s play, you do get the opportunity to understand your child better and you get to just have fun on your child’s terms. It expresses to your child that s/he is important and what s/he does is important.