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How & what do your kids play?

Over the weekend, while getting the chores done downstairs, I went upstairs to find laundry - clean and dirty - strewn everywhere.  There was also a pillow on the ground.  My daughter stood, with each foot planted firmly a reusable shopping bag, with a broom in her hand.  "What are you doing?!?", my voice elevated and stern.  "I have to keep away from the hot lava, and I am rowing to go to the bathroom."

Part of me wanted to scold her and tell her to fold up the clothes, put my shopping bags where they should be by the door, and bring me my broom.  Another part of me knew exactly what her strategy was.  I used to play hot lava too, throwing all the couch cushions on the ground and hopping from one to another.  Anyone who touched the ground was "dead."

A NYTimes article over the weekend talked about how many of our children today - while they can figure out how to work the newest iPhone app - can't figure out how to get a game of stickball going in the neighborhood.  Kids are unlearning how to play, spending less time outside at playgrounds, not given recess time at school, engaged in structured sports and other extracurricular activities under tight schedules.  Parents are less willing to allow chaos and disorder in the house, more stressed and unwilling to handle kids' volume when playing.

I don't want my kids to forget how to play.  I want to encourage them to make fun out of white paper, an adventure out of thin air, and - sigh! - a fort out of all our blankets and furniture.  I want to hear inspiring stories of play at your house.  Do you feel like your kids sometimes show signs of having forgotten how to play ("mama, I'm bored!"... it happens to us!)?  Are you irritated by the side effects of the most fanciful of play (holy mess, Batman!)?  Or, do you maybe make a game out of the clean-up itself?

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Lots of play at our house. Legos (building and just playing with, wars esp), playmobile, dress up stuff (sports, star wars, viking, police, "rescue guy"). Forts, battles, pretend play with pretend people or giving the figurines names and tasks. Even with media on there is lots of play/interaction. We can't just watch football - we are teams and coaches and have our uniforms on with whistles and our "indoor" football. Same with some movies. While watching Narnia, I am Lucy and have my magic liquid and knives (lego), kiddo is Edmond crossed with Susan with his bow and arrow, and the dog is Aslan. Usually have to move some furniture around to create "boulders" and "caves". Nice weather brings scooter-ing, biking, soccer, local park for whatever. On the other hand, he has also learned Angry Birds on the iPhone and knows how to get the PBS Go shows on demand by himself. Balance?

My most dreaded play (but I allowed it and went with it) was 'travel' which involved 'packing' all of their stuffed animals, favorite clothes and other very random things into a blanket and carrying it to a different part of the house (which was usually Alaska) and unpacking there. Argh what a mess, but yes, we talked about where we were going and then did things when we got there. They have passed that one stage now, but we still have lots of forts and other good stuff. Endless blocks, domino creations, legos...

I just remember that 'travel' always made me grit my teeth behind the smile.

I have a 4 year old boy who is just starting the imaginary play and I am loving it! However, wig this does come the personal struggle of letting the caos of toys and things strung all over the house. It is hard to let it be but I tend to leave it be and then do a big cleanup party before bed or company. I have found he plays better when stuff is everywhere than when it is all put away. I do try to keep some stuff like legos, games and other themed toys out speratly for my own sanity but other than that it's usually a crazy madhouse where I live!

My kids love dreaming up imaginary play themes. They'd rather stay home than go out most weekends and play so well together, sometimes I feel so spoiled. They play school, the travel game (thankfully, they don't pack up clothes, just stuffies & fave toys), or family for hours. They also like to be in or near the kitchen when we are so we have set up an art studio right there, and have plenty of creative activities they can choose from.

They have plenty of toys, but they prefer pretend play over anything. Well, probably anything other than the Wii - that still wins most weekends but I look at it more like physical activity rather than a video game (although it's still counted as screen time around here).

What a creative daughter! I'm a big fan of the NYTimes article. Children need most of the day to revolve around the work of play. It's so important to their development. The kids of my family are amazing at finding old toys/objects and turning them into new things. Feathers become magical wands. Cones become a scare crow costume. And books are piled up to make a castle. It's great to see more people recognizing the value of play in children's lives!

Yes, I read that NYT article and a few other on that topic. Isn't it scary to know toddlers play a lot with iphone nowadays? Imagine what they are missing out on. Creative play is so much fun and you can make it different every day. I try to buy toys that encourage creative play but I also have to give credit to my daughter's daycare for doing great job in creative play encouragement and in their choice of toys.
When I see other toddlers naming letters in public, I don't ever think "Oh no, my daughter is behind, she can't do this yet". I do think "That child watches too much tv and plays too much with Iphone, computer, leapfrog toys etc and is likely missing out on really important stuff like practicing social skills and engaging in imaginary play."

AJ, you shouldn't assume that children who know their letters learned them from electronic toys or media. My kids have never watched TV, have no electronic toys, and do not play with smart phones or computers. They have wooden or natural toys, games, instruments, art supplies, etc. However, both knew their numbers and letters by two, mostly from reading books. They are curious beings and we strive to provide them with a rich and stimulating environment. You are right, though, that academics shouldn't be the focus for young kids! They need to create and explore.

I admit that sometimes it drives me crazy being a very tidy person in a very small house with two kids and all of their stuff. I bite my tongue and enjoy their play while they're active in it - that's the good stuff. The conflict comes when it's time to pick everything up. I'll help but I won't do it all for them, so my rule is that we don't leave the house until it's all picked up (unless there's an ongoing Lego project or something). This keeps us all happy.

My daughter and her cousin frequently play "flood"--pile everything in sight onto the bed so it won't be washed away by the flood! The clean up, post flood, is not nearly as fun, but that seems pretty normal to me.

My kids, especially with the addition of their 3 close-in-age cousins, do a lot of fort building and good guys vs. bad guys with variations galore. They play with babies, they play they're all cats, they play that they are pregnant cats having babies . . . definitely no lack of ideas. Sometimes a lack of willingness to stop or to include others or to clean up--again, just the normal kid stuff.

You can make a game out of cleaning instead of completely removing play from your kids' daily routine. Through this, they will learn to see responsibility as fun and exciting and not an obligation.

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