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Challenge: Digging Deep

Do you play with your kids?

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The "play movement" has gotten a lot of press lately. There have been articles on CNN and in the New York Times. The theory is that most of the social and intellectual skills that are needed to succeed in life are first developed through childhood play.

I admit that playing is not one of my strong skills as a parent. I can read books for hours or do puzzles or play card and board games or even spend hours walking around a museum (all of which are great activities but are fairly structured), but when it comes down to just playing with my boys, well, I'm just not very good at it. For me, it's not an issue of chaos. Anyone who's ever been to my house knows that describing it as chaotic is an understatement. I'm just not very good at imaginative play. (My mom says that even as a kid I preferred to read, but I do have memories of writing a play and getting my brother and sister to act it out for her.)

So, I had a second kid to entertain the first. (I'm kidding!) That works sometimes, but I have two boys and pretty much any playing they do together eventually just becomes a wrestling match. And, unless the goal is to someday have them on WWF, I'm pretty sure that's not what the play movement had in mind. The final challenge I face (as I'm sure many of you do) is that I live in an urban area, on a busy road with a small lot. Kicking them out the door to play by themselves is just not an option.

So, what's a "non-playing" mom to do?

Use Props. Here's what we have:

  • bins of dress-up clothes (mostly previous years' Halloween costumes and a ton of play scarves)
  • a drawer full of hand and finger puppets
  • legos (which are best once they've lost a key part for the specific thing they're designed for because then they have to get creative)
  • art supplies (everything from paper to paints to scrapbooking scissors to random buttons)
  • play doh and cookie cutters and rolling pins and random other things play doh won't hurt (and here's a recipe for homemade dough)
  • junk drawer (pretty much anything small I have no use for gets tossed in there – it's amazing the uses the boys come up with for things)
  • extra blankets (we have tons of blankets and throw pillows in our living room – they're great for snuggling and for building forts)

Go outside with them.

  • play sports (but let them make up new rules)
  • ride bikes and scooters
  • run wild at the playground (I can guarantee this is a workout for parents too if you run with them)
  • play "I run" (it's our running version of "I spy". I describe what I see and they have to run to it. Jones "hates to run", but loves this game.)
  • Take advantage of the no fee days at the National Parks (the weekend of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is the first one).

Have friends over (nothing sparks a child's imagination more than another child).

Ask open-ended questions about what they are playing. You have to spend a whole lot less time pretending to be a dragon if they are spending the time explaining how the kingdom works. Questions like "and then what happened?" and "how did he do that?" and even "Really?" can invoke amazingly elaborate and creative responses.

Need some more ideas?

  • Here's an awesome list of 100 things to do with kids.
  • Creative Kids at Home has an extensive list of activities to do with kids.
  • Kaboose has lots of different types of things to do, including some activities that tie in with the upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr holiday.

So, how do you play with your kids? I'd love to hear more ideas and find some great websites! Please share!

(And don't forget, we have a giveaway of a three month trial of the Six O'Clock Scramble going on. If you win, you'd have more free time to play!)

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