Playful Ideas for Families

The month of February is cold and snowy.  It is the shortest month of the year. The groundhog has already left his underground burrow, looked for his shadow and promised either a shorter or longer winter. However, by this time in Minnesota we have dealt with months of mittens, snowpants, darkness by late afternoon and consistently runny noses.  Parents of young children by February are justifiably fed up with their cabin fever.

The parents in the Hopkins ECFE classes have been discussing the difficulties around keeping their children’s energy channeled into constructive play.  This gets so much more difficult as the weeks melt into each other (and the snow refuses to melt–just keeps piling up) and the same activities that started out so exciting during the first part of winter become more hum drum.

Young children are constantly interested in engaging with the people they love most.  Their play is their best way to develop an understanding of the world around them. Children often want us to play with them, set up games for them, act out stories with them, read books to them and pay attention to them as much as possible. As the snowy months keep us house-bound it is tempting to find more passive ways to entertain our children.  High quality screen time, carefully scheduled throughout the day and offered under clearly defined limits can often help parents find a moment of peace during the long hours.

However, it is important to remember that both the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have strongly recommended that children under the age of two watch no television and experience no screen time. They recommend children aged three and older experience only 1-2 hours of screen time a day. (Screen time includes television, computer, i-pad, computer games and etc.)

These recommendations make sense to us as parents, we understand that children learn more when they are directly involved with a real person.  We know that children learn best when they are engaging their senses and whole body fully. We know that children learn through imitation and we are often much more comfortable with what we model than what the television models.  But that does not change the fact that in the middle of February we as parents are just completely, absolutely, undeniably and frustratingly out of creative ideas.  So what to do?

As the parents in our ECFE classes discussed the winter hum-drums, they also worked together to come up with creative ideas they can use and wanted to share:

  • Big cardboard boxes with crayons
  • Long sheet of paper with crayons
  • Make your own sensory table/bin – big plastic storage bin from target filled with snow, beans, cornstarch etc.  Just like ECFE.  Put storage bin on plastic table cloth on floor.
  • Dress up in Mom/dad clothes
  • Grocery list treasure hunt – Do we have milk?  sugar? mustard?
  • Create an obstacle course of pillows, blankets, chairs and etc.
  • Make a fort out of blankets and chairs or a table.
  • Have an indoor picnic–have lunch on a blanket in the living room

These ideas may provide the opportunity for you and your children to have some wonderful afternoons of cozy family play. But what if you are looking for even more?  The Lexington Health Department in Kentucky has provided an activity list entitled 101 Things to Do Instead of Watch Television.  Some of these ideas appeal to older children, but most ideas could be modified to work for younger children. Some of these ideas are also designed for play during the rest of the year–so be sure to have this list handy throughout all four of the seasons.

Don’t forget that Harley Family Center offers great opportunities for indoor play. You are welcome to register for Saturday Open Gyms as well as Thursday and Friday Stay and Plays by calling 952-988-5000. These classroom experiences offer time to play together as a family in a room filled with toys–and a motor room designed to run, jump, climb and throw balls in! In addition, our Toy Lending Closet provides toys to families for a two week loan period. Parents can bring play things into their house without the expense of having a new toy, and just when the kids are tiring of it, parents can bring it back for something else new and exciting.

We are interested in hearing your creative ideas to keep children engaged and active during the cold months. If you have an idea to share, leave a comment and tell others about how you are getting through these last winter weeks with play-based ideas. Log in and leave a comment on the blog.  Our parent body is so ingenious and creative I am sure we could come up with an activity-a-day for the next 6 weeks of winter!

Interested in learning more about why play is important in the life of the child? The American Academy of Pediatrics has offered an article (through their web site Healthy Children) discussing the value of play in helping a child learn about the world around him. The AAP has also discussed the limit setting practices of parents and its effectiveness in setting up clear expectations around TV watching for children.

We hope that as the sun shines longer and longer during the day, we can find more and more signs that spring is coming soon.  If we know it is coming, we can focus  on enjoying these last days of winter.

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