It goes without saying but, the world has changed. Children are now summering in a pandemic. What used to be endless days at the pool, summer camps, and sleep overs are clouded by social distancing and mask wearing. Connection and interaction seems to be all online. Everyone is searching for a new “normal”. Many of the parents I work with are struggling to find places for their children to be while trying to uphold work obligations. Often it can feel like the new normal is just a different kind of overwhelm. Instead of running from school to soccer to play date, we are breaking up spats between siblings while trying to be on a virtual meeting. Amidst the chaos, it is easy to get bogged down in the struggle and desire for “new normal”. The truth is, no one really knows what “new normal” means. Perhaps its a way to label the uncertainty of the world we live in. We crave to normalize a world where we only see others on a screen. But what about the “old normal?
Before computers, before busy and even before YouTube, there was time when kids played. Really played. With sticks, mud and imagination. Somewhere along the way we lost the importance of play. However, research has continually shown that play is the foundation of learning. Children (and adults) who play show higher levels of intelligence, problem solving and social skills.
The varieties of play are endless, yet, all include one thing: connection. Be it connection with others or connection to self, when you are in a state of play it is impossible to be disconnected. Even in moments of sadness or frustration at losing a game, you are still connected to your emotions in a very present way. You are feeling the heat on your face, the ball in your throat and yes, the desire to make it go away. That is all connection.
However, solitude is something I’m sure we have had enough of. So where is the connection in cooperative play? Playing together is a gold mine of connection, even when it is not easy or cooperative. Eye to eye contact, problem solving, turn taking all surface during play. The key is we are in relationship. Not harmonious relationship, just real relationship. Messy and imperfect.
What does it mean to really play with your child?
First, there is no wrong way to do this. The only requirement is to be present. Play requires you to let go of the shoulds and listen to your childlike desires. What would you do if there were no rules. Put down technology or the looming work project and spend even five minutes engaging in making silly shapes with pancake batter or racing upstairs to brush your teeth. Small moments are just as valuable as the big moments. We have spent so much time staring into the black mirror abyss that face to face present connection does wonders to our relationships. I’m brought back to the realization that maybe hours on technology or just being busy in the house are not what we are intended to learn from this. One thing we can take from this pandemic is a greater ability to play and be present with ourselves and our children.
Give it a try. Who knows, you might just have fun!
Some ideas for play Big and Small:
Imaginative play/ pretend play
Board games/ card games/ family game night
obstacle course building
“dress however you want day”
make a lunch of only orange foods
bake without the intention of actually eating it (aka mix whatever!)
play i-spy out the window
house treasure hunt
jump on the bed
build a cardboard fort with all those amazon boxes you have lying around
race who can get dressed first
create art with house hold objects