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Just because holidays are over and it’s time to go back to school, it doesn’t have to mean that play is ‘out’ and work is ‘in’. In fact, as childrens’ days return to more structured, supervised lessons and sessions, dedicated efforts to promote play are more important than ever!
There is a strong argument that play is the most important ‘homework’ a school student could have!
…Besides the fact that play is an essential part of childhood, and should not be forced to ‘hibernate’ until the next lot of holidays come around, we all need a balance of work, rest and play!
However, in the midst of the school terms, it can be challenging to uphold the ‘play’ part of the ‘work, rest and play’ balance. At school, there is a strict timetable, where many everyday decisions are out of the hands of children.
School dictates when activities start, finish and transition; when children eat; as well as when they play and for how long. Additionally, during class time, students are challenged with difficult, time-pressured, as well as many new, unfamiliar tasks. This takes a lot of energy and brain power. It can be exhausting for kids to attend, perform and participate in the school demands all day, five days a week!
As excited as our (almost) six year old boy is to finally start ‘big’ school, I can’t help but feel like I need to brace myself for battle: to protect my son’s precious play time.
From my experiences in the therapy clinic too, I know many other parents of children of varying ages share my concerns, especially when homework, other commitments, and general day to day family organisation get into full swing!
Each of the following ideas aims to keep play a priority. Go ahead and choose one to focus on, or work your way through the whole list – I promise that neither you nor your children will live to regret it!
TOP TIPS TO MAINTAIN A PLAY FILLED ROUTINE THROUGH THE SCHOOL TERM
- Resist the urge to over schedule your child with extra curricular commitments – following children’s passions and boosting their skills in particular pursuits can be great for their self confidence and contribute to the development of their personal identity, but I urge you to consider: choosing carefully, maybe rotating activities each year/half year/term, attending a few different (free) trial sessions to help decision making, and finally…don’t forget the option of intensive holiday programs (-they might only take half an hour out of a whole holiday-day, whereas midweek activities take up a greater proportion of the remaining hours in the day that could be spent in play!)
- Establish clear expectations for before and after school ‘jobs’ – E.g. school bag packing/unpacking, ‘reader’, lunch, home chores, and so on. Perhaps utilising a visual checklist or motivating ‘timer’ could be the trick that’s needed to support kids to move through those important, but more mundane tasks quicker. Once they’re out of the way… it’s time to play
- De-clutter – I guarantee that spending the time going through and clearing out the kids’ stuff (with or without their help!) will nurture richer play experiences. (You may enjoy the result so much, you might not stop with the children’s things, and continue to move through the whole house streamlining!) Think: donating to charity, swapping with friends, subscribing to toy libraries, recycling, and tossing out the broken items. The less ‘stuff’ around, the more space for playing and organising play resources. Also, your children will find it much easier to focus in on their play ideas, without be burdened by the distraction of unnecessary ‘stuff’! This is particularly important if your living space is compact like ours! (You can check out my top tips for Small Space Living – Indoor Play Ideas here for more inspiration).
- Ensure your child has easy access to food, clothes and play spaces/resources to minimise the chance of play being interrupted (E.g. sun hats, sun cream, wet weather gear/boots, snacks, drink bottle…)
- Set clear screen time limits – Less screen time, even eliminating it altogether in the mornings before school starts, will assist children to stay alert and focused in class. If children are less fatigued during school hours, it follows that they’ll focus better, work faster, (maybe take home less homework), and have more energy and motivation after school to play actively! Of course, kids need some time to recharge their batteries too, however, if they get into the habit of always resorting to screens to chill out, it can cause other problems. Broadening their repertoire of relaxing activities has many benefits. Check out all of these Screen-Free Quiet Time Ideas for some practical tips and ideas. If you are after some research, and more of my musings around children and screens, check out this post from the Kids Play Space archive: Imagine If Less Meant More!
- Arrive at school a little earlier before class starts or stay a little longer at the end of the day – Utilising the school playground is a convenient way to add extra play minutes to the day.
- Adventure playgrounds – Have you been to an adventure playground? They are awesome. Seriously. The quality of play that kids experience in these styles of playgrounds is astounding. I encourage you to look up your local adventure playgrounds, opening hours, and go along – not just as a once off, but as a regular ‘thing’ you do (they usually cater extremely well to after school play hours for school-aged kids). If your local council does not support one, ask them to! You might be interested in learning more about Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds or a wonderful, Melbourne based Adventure Playground (in Kensington) called ‘The Venny’.
- Time/opportunities to play with friends outside of school – Some of my most treasured memories of playing as a child involved having a friend come over to play or hanging out at their house. How exciting it is to explore new toys and play areas with a friend, and have a friend over to share your toys! … Not to mention the wonderful life skills this nurtures: responsibility, respect, empathy, turn taking, imagination, language/interaction skills, and so much more! If shared play is challenging for your child, you may find something helpful in this article: Playing with Friends: Supporting Social Skills in Play .
- Homework – can you refuse to do it? (I am clearly anti-homework!) This is a whole other discussion point. Let’s just say, I am yet to see a well researched article, or any article at all which provides evidence that homework contributes to better academic outcomes. I have seen loads showing the opposite though! I’d much rather see children spending time with family and friends, playing, joining in with household chores (maybe helping with preparing dinner or the next day’s lunch), relaxing, reading, and getting to bed at a decent hour for a good night’s sleep (having avoided added stress doing more of the same things that they’ve been doing during the day at school!) I’d love to hear your ideas or success stories around minimising homework (outside of fun, practical tasks like “Collect a leaf from 3 different trees” or a ‘reader’, for nightly story reading).
- Encourage more creative, playful, ways for your child to practise school related skills – Hopscotch? Bingo? Play on vertical surfaces? Write letters in the sand at the beach? Add a measuring tape, cups or jug to their play tools?…
- Find out what your child’s school does to support more play during the school day – Perhaps the school council might like to consider some of the points in the article: The Case for More Play in the School Setting.
- Boredom – Children need unstructured time and space to explore and engage in play. If every minute of their waking life is scheduled, their time available for thinking and learning freely through play is reduced. Read the full post Celebrating Boredom in Childhood here.
- Take a real interest in your child’s play – Include your child/ren when planning your family’s timetable. Do they even want to [insert your own busy, perfectly planned, day trip/excursion], or would they prefer to simply kick the soccer ball with friends/family at your local park, or test out their new art supplies? Follow their lead and be excited with them/for them! Kids deserve to have their play ideas respected and acknowledged. If kids feel like you genuinely care about play (as all children do), it will fuel more play, and that is always a good thing!
- Try becoming more at ease with the idea of ‘evidence of play’ – Trust me, as a self-confessed, organisation freak myself, (living in a small 2-bed unit), I know only too well how tempting it is to cry on repeat “Clean this mess!”, “Pick up these things” etc. But, if adults are able to turn a blind eye every now and then, children’s flow of play can carry on for longer without interruption, the quality of play can deepen, and longer strings of more complex of play sequences can be practised and enjoyed. Perhaps you could have set ‘clean up’ time agreements with your kids (e.g. before dinner, or before you leave the house); or perhaps you could have an assigned place to leave play projects in a ‘half finished’ – ‘in progress’ state. If there is simply too much ‘stuff’ to pack up or a lack of space to leave unfinished projects, maybe it’s worth re-visiting the ‘de-clutter’ point above!
- Don’t forget all the little incidental play opportunities – You needn’t always have to set aside huge chucks of time for free play (although that is awesome too!) Lots of small, incidental play moments and playful interactions interspersed throughout the out of school hours can hold lots of meaning for children. It might be as simple as allowing kids a longer play in the bath, the choice of music or a game for car trips, or allowing slightly longer to get somewhere so that the kids can enjoy balancing on their favourite kerbside – as in the article about Urban Play Spaces – Balance Beams in the Real World. It might be asking your child if they could use a particularly interesting (or ordinary) cardboard box in their play, before efficiently tossing it into the recycling bin. Or, it might be a spontaneous family fancy dress dinner…
This article is part of the 2017 Aussie Back to School Blog Hop! Please read the articles here by some wonderful Australian Bloggers! You will find a whole range of school related posts from how first time school mums are feeling, to great lunch box ideas as well as suggestions for those who don’t like crunch and sip!
Teachers Please Don’t! | Your Kids OT
Advice For First Time School Mums From Seasoned Mums and Teachers | The Multitasking Woman
10 simple ways to make school lunches more fun | Kidgredients
Teacher Types Top Tips for Going Back to School | Teacher Types
Maintaining a Play Filled Routine throughout the School Term | Kids Play Space
5 Must Have Items for Starting Day Care | My Bored Toddler
Handling Crunch and Sip with Fussy Kids | Play With Food
How to share your child’s special needs with their new teacher | My Home Truths
16 things the school holidays have taught me | Eenie Meenie Miney Mum
The Most Important Skills Your Child Needs for School | The Happy Me Shop
101 Sandwich Filling Ideas for Kids | Create Bake Make
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