Deborah Skolnik is a writer, editor, and content manager who lives in Scarsdale, New York. After graduating magna cum laude in English from Cornell University, she began a publishing career that to date has spanned more than 25 years. She has held senior editorial and managerial positions at some of America’s most respected titles, including American Baby magazine, Parents magazine, and Parenting magazine. She writes frequently about toys and has often appeared on television to discuss the importance of play. Deborah is the parent of two girls who adore skateboards, board games, badminton, and the occasional sock monkey.
- Make time for playtime! Instead of watching TV, use that time for playing with your kids.
- If you only have 30 minutes, set up a quick scavenger hunt around the house.
- If you only have 15 minutes, have a quick balloon toss. Be careful not to let it hit the ground!
- If you only have 5 minutes, set up a puzzle on a table in advance and out together as many pieces as you can in the spare time you have.
“Mommy, will you play with me? And will you make dinner?”
That’s how my two daughters often greet me as I walk through the door after a day at work. I bet you get conflicting requests like this from your kids, too! It brings up a central challenge for us parents: how to squeeze some fun and games into a jam-packed schedule. Getting dinner on the table is just one chore that can chip away at playtime. When you add in things like housework--and, depending on your child’s age, homework--it can seem like there’s no time to cut loose for some free play.
“Playing with your child doesn’t have to take hours on end. Think of little stretches of downtime you have – say, right before paying the bills or on those lazy weekend mornings…”
Don’t give up! Instead, get creative. Playing with your child doesn’t have to take hours on end. Think of the little stretches of downtime you have—say, right before paying the bills, or on those lazy weekend mornings when you usually watch TV. These short intervals are great opportunities for all kinds of games. Now that you know you have the time to play, the only other things you need are some easy ideas. We’ve got those covered too.
If you only have 30 minutes…
Have a card-house building contest. Who can build the tallest “house” from playing cards or blocks before it all comes tumbling down? Who can create the largest fort, or the largest area with a roof? Go for best of five or so rounds of building, depending on how long you have. Let your child build his structure his own way, learning through trial and error. It will help his imagination and fine-motor skills, and it may also improve your relationship, according to a study of mothers by the University of Missouri-Columbia. The researchers found that kids are more engaged with their parents when they’re allowed to make their own creative choices during play.
Have a scavenger hunt. Hide various objects in different rooms of your house. Give your child a list (or, if he can’t read, recite it to him) and let him search for each item. Supervise small children, and of course, hide items in only safe places in each room. The hunt teaches kids patience, a trait that will come in handy throughout their lives. Research shows it can help people avoid depression and negative emotions, probably because they handle challenging situations more easily.
Hit the Pavement. Have your child lie down on the driveway while you trace her outline in chalk. Afterward, color in her outline together with bright chalks, decorating the figure with clothes, shoes, hair, and a big smile. Talk about the way your masterpiece comes out in the end. This informal art lesson can have wide-ranging benefits, including intellectual ones, since it teaches kids to think critically and analytically. In fact, one study found that children who have lots of chances to create artwork score higher on their SATs down the road.
If you only have 15 minutes…
Have a ball with a balloon. Using your hands or a pair of ping-pong paddles, hit a balloon back and forth. See how long you can go without someone letting it drop to the floor, or challenge your child to the best of 10 rounds. Your kid will eventually learn that hitting the balloon hard doesn’t necessarily make it go faster or farther.
Bling it on! Using yarn and different loop-shaped cereal create cereal necklaces, bracelets, crowns, and even belts. Stringing is more than just silly fun: Occupational therapists say it enhances children’s development in many ways. It sharpens hand-eye coordination, enhances fine-motor skills and visual memory, and more. You can even turn your jewelry-making adventure into a mini math lesson (“How many red loops did you put on there so far?”)
You gotta hand it to him…Place various familiar household items (such as a mitten, a pair of sunglasses, a set of keys, or a birthday candle) into a bag, one at a time. Have your child close his eyes and reach into the bag with just one hand. Can he name the object without peeking?
If you only have 5 minutes…
Draw it out. Fold a piece of paper in thirds. Have your child draw a funny head on the top third while you cover your eyes. Tell him to extend the neck past the paper’s crease before folding his drawing backward, out of sight. Next, it’s your turn: Draw a silly torso on the paper’s middle section as your child covers his eyes. Make sure the tops of the legs extend to the final section of the paper, and then fold back your drawing. Let your child draw silly legs on the page’s bottom third. Unfold the sheet to see the crazy creature you’ve made.
Live a Puzzle Life. Keep a puzzle going on a table. Solve more pieces of it whenever you have a few minutes together. It’s fun, and also a proven brain-builder. A recent national study, published in Psychological Science, found that children who regularly play with puzzles tend to have better spatial reasoning skills. This ability—to both reason about space and manipulate objects within it—is especially important for success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Hit the spot. Draw a set of concentric circles on your patio or driveway with chalk. Using a tennis ball, a small rubber ball, or water balloons, see who can come closest to hitting the bullseye. Best out of 10 wins! Along with refining your child’s motor skills and aim, this contest gives you both a chance to enjoy some old-fashioned outdoor play. Researchers say that only about half of all kids go outside to walk or have fun with their parent each day—an important activity for physical and mental development. So go ahead and try this game; no matter what score you get, you’ll hit the bullseye when it comes to healthy play.