We all know the richness that play can offer our children, but some of us might not feel overly confident facilitating playful moments. This is no surprise, as playing in adulthood is not our priority. We’ve got bills to pay, work to do, washing to hang out, meals to cook, children to care for. We don’t need something else on our giant ‘to do’ list!
Through my work as a play and laughter specialist, I have seen the transformative effects that playfulness can have on both adults and children. Participants leave my workshops feeling relaxed, connected and emotionally lighter. Equipped with tools that can be used immediately at home or work, to harness more laughter, joy and ridiculousness.
I didn’t call my business The Best Medicine for no reason! Playfulness promotes connection, feeds the imagination, enables self-expression and builds self-confidence. The skills that we learn through play can’t always be measured or quantified; but we mustn’t forget that these skills are crucial to the emotional and physical development and wellbeing of our children.
I truly believe that playfulness has the capacity to heal us as we face the aftermath of this pandemic. It is our duty as parents, teachers, playworkers, carers and family members to provide opportunities for play, laughter and reconnection. Yes, this may feel daunting; but I can guarantee that if you put some of these ideas into practice, it won’t just be the children having fun.
The best kinds of play are purposeless; which us adults sometimes find difficult to get our heads around. Why engage in something that has no end goal? But let me tell you, the unknown is where the magic happens. Prioritising play means enabling and encouraging children to fully explore and enjoy play without needing a final outcome.
Here are a few tips to get you there:
- Make time in each day where you can be present and playful. Put your phone down and leave your chores to one side. It could be for 10 mins, 30 mins or a whole hour, just give your child your undivided play-tension
- Invent your own game together, one that’s never been played before. This could be anything from making dots on a piece of paper to designing your own obstacle course. Let your child lead the way, support their creativity, it doesn’t need to make sense!
- Create your own playful rituals. When someone in the house sneezes why not come up with a ridiculous dance move or word to yell? Again the ritual doesn’t need to be logical, silliness is key!
There is no question that nature is the biggest playground of them all. Climbing trees, jumping in puddles and blowing dandelion heads all count as play to me! Connecting to nature has a multitude of health benefits for both adults and children. Natural environments provide an array of possibilities for physical play and games. There is room to roam and challenges around every corner. Hopping across stepping stones or climbing trees are the types of activities that build confidence and increase self-esteem.
Here are a few tips to support outdoor play:
- Set the parameters, this could be a physical boundary or a series of rules that help to keep your child safe
- Don’t be afraid to go out in the elements. As a wise women once said ‘Skin is waterproof’, you can always get dry and warm again!
- Facilitate a nature treasure hunt. Pick up some free paint sample strips from your local DIY shop and get your child to match the colour of the strip with the colour of something they can find in nature. This could be a plant, flower, seed or feather
Don’t be afraid to look foolish
Now this is one of the most important routes to playfulness. Looking silly is something we actively avoid as grown-ups, but what’s the worst that could happen?
Here are some tips that will help you to embrace your silly side:
- Create a play signal. This could be a word, phrase, action or even silly hat to wear. When the signal has been made, your child knows you’re ready to play!
- Remember a moment in your day (mundane or memorable) and pretend that someone has pressed rewind on the activity. See if you and your child can act out what happened backwards
- Laugh at yourself. The times when I embarrass myself (fall over in the middle of the street, talk to the shop assistant like a pirate or take the bins out early in my dressing gown only to be met with a passing dog walker), I laugh! Being able to loosen up and laugh at yourself will go a long way when facilitating playful moments with children
Katie Rose White is a Laughter Facilitator and founder of ‘The Best Medicine’. She works predominantly with carers, teachers and healthcare professionals – teaching playful strategies for boosting mood, strengthening resilience and improving wellbeing. She provides practical workshops, interactive talks and training days – fusing therapeutic laughter techniques, playful games and activities, and mindfulness-based practices. The techniques are not only designed to equip participants with tools for managing their stress, but can also be used and adapted to the needs of the people that they are supporting.