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Natural Ways to Encourage Play in Your Kids

By Jennifer Landis:

Our hectic modern lifestyles often lead us to structure every moment of our days to make sure we accomplish everything. However, children need unstructured playtime in order to develop social skills and emotional intelligence. Going from screen time to school to soccer practice then back to screen time leaves no room for imagination.

Childhood is the perfect time to tap into the innate creativity each of us possesses. But how can parents encourage imaginative play in our iPad-addicted world? Try some of these tips to help your kids enjoy playtime while they learn how to think outside the Xbox.

1. Make Space for Arts And Crafts

Just as adults need separate spaces for work and recreation, children need a place where their imaginations can run wild. Set up an arts and crafts area in a spare bedroom, a renovated basement or even a special corner of the family room. Stock the play area with supplies like crayons, colored paper, empty cardboard boxes and other creative craft supplies.

Parents with tight budgets need not spend much dough to stock their kiddos’ play area. Dollar stores offer a world of art supplies, each costing just a buck; and online art supply sites,likewise, offer discounts.

2. Cut Back on Structured Activities a Bit

Do the littles really need science camp every Monday, basketball practice every Tuesday and piano lessons every Wednesday? Yes, structured after-school activities give parents a break, but they can rob children of valuable play time.

Dedicate at least one day each week for unstructured play. Working single parents can make this manageable by doing a bit of extra grinding on Monday in order to keep Friday afternoon free.

3. Costumes Aren’t Only for Halloween

Remember playing dress up? Kids love getting into costumes, so encourage them to createthe most imaginative ones. You don’t need to buy a chest of costumes — let your children raid your closet, and pick up additional materials at yard sales and thrift shops.

4. Make an IRL Farmville-Style Game

Young children adore pretending to be grownups, so bring back the art of playing teacher, doctor, farmer, etc. Use stuffed toys to create an “In Real Life” barn full of animals that need tending each day. It’s kind of like playing Tamagotchi without the electronic component.

5. Get a Little Messy

Creative play can make your home resemble a disaster area, but that’s all part of the fun — plus you can have the kids help with cleanup. Save the queen of clean attitude for after the children leave for college.

Folks who can’t tolerate the thought of vacuuming glitter off couches for months can always take the messiest play outside. Find a picnic table at a local playground when playing with paint, etc. The children can gain an additional creative play boostby joining other children in playground fun while there.

6. Kids And Cats Both Love Boxes

Every parent has groaned inwardly on holiday mornings when their children prefer playing with the box more than the toy that came in it. But this helps young ones develop their imaginations! Contact your local grocery and ask that they put some empty boxes aside for you, and challenge kids to innovate uses for them.

7. Have a Bake-Off

If your little boy or girl dreams of competing on the next season of Kids Baking Championship, make dinnertime playtime by having them prepare the meal. Kids too young to use the stove can still help parents or older siblings make cookie dough or cake batter.

8. Build a Fort

Who among us hasn’t fantasized about hiding in a blanket fortwhen life gets too hectic? Kids love escaping to these private havens to read or color, so help them design their own. Join them for story time in their cozy new “getaway.”

9. Make Finger Puppets

Paper, cardboard, socks and old tee shirts can be repurposed into finger puppets. Have the little ones create a cast of characters, perhaps drawing inspiration from popular books and movies. Go further by using a discarded bit of cardboard to make a “stage” on which their new puppets can perform.

Challenge children to create their own stories or plays to perform for their grandparents and other relatives. Encourage them to add their own unique twists to the plots of classic fairy tales like Cinderella. They can create a new plot for Bambiin which the fawn’s mother lives a long and happy life, for example.

10. Supervise but Don’t Micromanage

Remember, the purpose of play extends beyond letting kids burn off excess energy and quieting their whines of “I’m bored!” While younger kids need constant parental supervision, they don’t need intervention unless engaging in violent or dangerous behavior. As one of the benefits of unstructured play involves helping kids develop social and emotional awareness, avoid the urge to step in during minor disagreements. This teaches children how to resolve arguments on their own.

Enjoy Creative Fun Time

Playtime allows little ones to learn how to interact positively with others and to exercise their vivid imaginations. Setting aside time for kids to simply be kids keeps them mentally healthier and deepens their family bonds. Play away!

ennifer Landis is a mother, wife, and the editor of Mindfulness Mama . She enjoys yoga, green tea, and dark chocolate. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.

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We know that not everyone wants to be a full-time writer, and that those people may still have something great to contribute. Knowing this, we often have guest writers submit articles to us on various topics. Contact us if you have something wonderful to share!

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