Updated: Nov 29, 2022
Four Easy Ways to Add Play Into Your Daily Lives
by Rebecca Rolland, rebeccarolland.com
Making time for playful, lighthearted conversations is one of the best ways to connect with your kids. Study after study has found that, when you and your kids can relax and talk in playful ways together, you reduce everyone’s stress. You build your connections and your child’s language skills. You also help your child with social-emotional skills like turn-taking. And you help your children learn, far more effectively than if you spent your time lecturing.
Think about play, and playful language, like building up a bank of goodwill that can get you through some of the difficult times. When you have more playful talk, you’re more likely to bond easily and less likely to snap at each other in the future. But how can you add more play into your lives? Especially these days, when so many of us are anxious, stressed, or on edge, it’s not always easy.
As a speech pathologist and mom of two, I’ve seen how much adding play into daily interactions can enhance your connections while building kids’ skills. I’ve also seen how easy it can be to forget about being playful–especially in the rush of getting to and from school, doing homework, and on and on.
To add some playfulness into your everyday lives, try out the following four strategies:
1. Explore possibilities: What if we…? Even young kids can benefit from asking the question: what if we tried….?
For example, “What if we tried taking the other way home?” or “What if we tried building the toy again, but this time, in the opposite order as before?”
2. Let your child suggest playful ideas to you. Maybe your child has the idea to bake a cake with pineapples and corn for decoration. Or maybe your older child wants to try removing a wheel from his bicycle, then see if he can ride it. As long as no one is getting hurt, see the attempt as an opportunity to try something different. Then reflect together on how it went.
3. Play language-based games. Depending on your child’s age, there are so many language-based games you can play that will enhance your child’s ability to express themselves–and that will let you all have a good time.
For example, with a younger child, try asking questions that ask them to imagine and use many different words. Consider questions like “What three things would you bring to the moon?” or “What three things would you take on a trip to the rainforest?” For an older child, you can get more elaborate. For example, see if you can take turns coming up with items rhyming with “ship,” or animals or foods starting with “B.” Each person takes a turn, and the game stops when someone takes more than ten seconds. Then start a new round with another idea.
4. Look out for jokes and riddles in books or online. Sometimes, you can feel like you run out of funny questions, jokes, or ideas. That’s totally normal–and no one can or should want to be funny all the time! But you can spark your imagination, and that of your kids, through looking for jokes and riddles and encouraging your kids to do the same. Try leaving a book of jokes by the bed for storytime, or near the dinner table.
There’s no pressure or need to make joke-telling a daily thing. But you might find that the more you incorporate playful talk into your lives, the more your kids start asking for it. They’ll probably whine less, and you’re all likely to have a bit more fun.
If you’d like to learn more about these strategies, feel free to contact me at Rebecca.firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website. You can also find my book, The Art of Talking with Children (March 1, 2022) from HarperOne.
About the Author Rebecca Rolland is a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is on the faculty at the Harvard Medical School. She also serves as an oral and written language specialist in the Neurology Department of Boston Children’s Hospital and as an advisor in curriculum development for the World Bank. As a nationally certified speech-language pathologist, she has worked clinically with populations ranging from early childhood through high school and has provided teacher professional development. She lives in Boston with her husband and two conversation-loving kids.