By now, many of us, including children, are finding it challenging to keep ourselves mentally healthy. We may be feeling overwhelmed, angry, tired, bored, and just grumpy with COVID life.
For children, play is even more critical as a tool for supporting their mental, emotional, and physical development during this pandemic. Play is a necessary part of childhood and influences every part of a child’s development and well-being: social relationships, emotional expression and release, movement and energy expenditure, creativity and imagination, and discovery and learning. Play is an age-appropriate and safe outlet for children to express feelings and experiences, understand their world, adapt to changes and build upon the relationships they have with their primary caregivers.
The importance of play, especially outdoors, should not be overlooked. It is an important bridge that re-establishes children’s connection to the natural world and the affordances that it gives them.
Include play in the outdoors. Outdoor play and interaction with the natural world has many benefits to children’s mental health, physical health, and overall well-being. Play in the outdoors may look different now, but it is possible to include outdoor play in small ways by: playing in the backyard, taking walks in your neighbourhood, collecting natural materials on your walk, or watching birds in your yard or neighbourhood.
Keep the connection with the natural world. For those who have no access to the outdoors, continue to establish a connection by reading books about nature, checking out local park websites for updates, pictures and videos, listening or looking for birds from your home, or taking care of indoor plants.
Provide opportunities for a variety of toys. This will allow your child to explore different mediums and different ways of playing. For example, toys and materials that promote pretend play (dolls, swords, animal miniatures, dress up, medical kits, etc.) or materials that promote regulated states (natural materials, sensory activities, journaling or art work, clay or Play Dough).
Provide open-ended materials. Loose parts are a great way to provide your children the opportunity to explore their feelings and experiences or to support them with their boredom. You can find loose parts around your house: sticks, wooden spoons or ladles, bowls, fabric, sheets, etc.
Follow your child’s lead. Many caregivers feel the need to structure their day with play-times, or structured play activities. You may consider asking yourself, “what is my child interested in today?” and going from there. Set up your home environment to include different play activities, toys, or materials, but also provide your child with opportunities for self-directed play. It is self-directed play in which children are free to express feelings and experiences.
Become playful with them. Remember one of the most important play items is YOU! A child’s attachment with their caregiver is important during times of change and stress. Be playful, and engage in play with them throughout the day. Don’t worry about not knowing “how to play” – they will show you the way! Paul Ramchandani, the UK’s first Professor of Lego Play at the University of Cambridge, shares his take on this approach in The Guardian.
In the spirit of playfulness we are sharing some resources that have caught our attention from points around the globe in the hope that they will be of benefit to readers and the children they love and care for.
IPA Play in Crisis: support for parents and carers was released earlier this month by our colleagues at IPA World. The collection provides information and ideas to support children’s play and includes topics such as the importance of playing in times of crisis and how to respond to children’s play needs. Issues specific to the pandemic that may concern parents are also addressed like children playing with difficult themes of loss, death and loneliness.
Individual themes from the resource can be explored here. The entire collection can be downloaded here.
East Lothian Play Association (ELPA) – Scotland
The ELPA team have been bringing fun and games to homes through their daily Play at Home Challenge. There are now over 30 challenges available on their Twitter account @EastLothianPlay and by searching the #ELPAplayathomechallenge hashtag. Sample challenges include: setting up a mud kitchen; potion making; things you can make with an egg carton; and, shadow drawing. There is a growing and varied selection of ideas and activities to inspire playful moments as ELPA continues its daily challenge.
Active for Life – Canada
Active for Life, a national proponent of physical literacy, is offering a variety of fun, physical activities to keep kids and adults moving. Parents and kids alike will be able to enjoy 42 easy activities to keep kids busy while parents work at home. The selection includes both indoor and independent outdoor activities. Many of the activities will be familiar but there are sure to be some that are new, or long forgotten that can help the kids get their play on. Penguin run anyone?
Scouts – United Kingdom
The Scouts in the UK have pulled together some fun indoor activity ideas to help keep kids entertained and engaged. There are over 200 ideas to choose from. Some of the activities were originally designed for face-to-face group meetings and may need to be recast to fit with today’s social distancing guidelines. Start exploring The Great Indoors here.
Studio Ludo – USA
Studio Ludo is an American non-profit whose mission is “building better play through research, design and advocacy”. The Studio Ludo team has posted play resources online here. In addition, they are distributing Play Packs to combat social isolation resulting from COVID-19 to families throughout Philadelphia where Studio Ludo is based.
Play Wales – Wales
Play Wales has a broad range of resources they make available to the public. In late March they published Playing actively in and around the home, a short and helpful digital pamphlet that provides guidelines and play ideas for parents. Brush up on balloon tennis, daytime disco and other activities here.
With a little help from friends at home and abroad together we can contribute to ensuring that the needs of kids are being met, including their need and their right to play. We would be pleased to hear from individuals and organizations who have play-related stories to share related to the pandemic. Drop us a note through our contact page.