Are you looking for things to do in lockdown? We’re now a year into the Covid crisis and our ideas bucket might be getting a little empty.  Every day feels like the Groundhog and you can’t wait for schools to go back? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

This Spring feels very strange for those of us at home with children.  We’ve had them at home with us the whole time since they broke up for Christmas!  However, it’s important that we make weekends and “not at school” times feel different for our children.  We’re not just talking about keeping the kids occupied, it’s much more important than that.  The monotony of a year where opportunities for holidays, going out to the shops, seeing friends and family, meals out, parties and activities like soft-play, swimming pools or school discos have been severely limited means that every day begins to feel like the groundhog day.

Humans (and monkeys too, research from Rome has confirmed) like variety.  You’ve heard the old adage “A change is as good as a rest”, the times when we are not doing school-dictated activity are a great opportunity to inject some variety for yourself as well as your children.

In the past I’ve talked often about the importance of allowing children to develop boredom, not to over-organise or over-structure their day-to-day lives, to allow their imaginations to flourish and increase the opportunities for free play.  I’m going to suggest that at this point, our children have had plenty of opportunity for free-play and imagination this past twelve months.  They’ve sadly had to occupy themselves apart from their peers, which makes free play and imagination so much harder.  Right now, they probably need a bit of direction and support.

If you’re also trying to work from home, or are having to go out to work and juggle childcare (difficult to access at the moment) this can be particularly hard.  However, I’d suggest that both you and your child need that emotional connection more than ever that you get from doing things together.

The ideas below for fun things to do in lockdown range from quick ideas you can use to inspire your children to go and do alone, to more complex activities that you will need to do together.  There are indoor and outdoor activities and ideas targeting younger children as well as older.  There is bound to be something to suit you. 

Indoor things to do in lockdown 

Building

Classic | Themes | Official LEGO® Shop GB
Image from Lego.com

Are those big boxes of Lego or other building blocks gathering dust in the corner?  Sometimes all the children need is a bit of inspiration. Whether you search for “Fun things to make with Lego” (producing results like this) or you set a “build the longest bridge” type challenge.  To really get them engaged, even older kids will value having you sit and build with them as they get started.  Once their imagination is in full flow, you can nip off to make a cup-of-tea and they won’t even notice you’ve gone.  Unless of course, you’re having so much fun that you want to stay and play!

Hide and seek or sardines

Easy to play and a lot of fun, though better with more players so best for a large family.  We all know how to play Hide and Seek.  In Sardines, one person hides, then as each player finds them, they have to squeeze into the same hiding place.

Paper mache

A great (if messy) craft for all ages. A quick internet search will reveal tons of inspiring ideas and you can always make something that fits into whatever your child is interested in, from dinosaur eggs to frog pots, from spooky castles to fairy palaces. This easy and cheap craft requires patience as you wait for layers to dry before adding the next bit, but the results can be spectacular.

DIY Salt Dough Ornaments and Easy Mobile — Value Minded Mama
Image from valuemindedmama.com

Salt dough crafts

Another craft that requires virtually nothing in the way of material (just flour, salt and water, and some paints to finish off).  You can create decorations, wall plaques or even doll-house food!

Junk Modelling

Raid the recycle bin to create some amazing creations: from monster robots to castles, egg box crocodiles to space rockets and milk carton cities. 

Baking

This is definitely a win-win activity.  Not only do you keep a little person very busy, teach them measuring skills, food hygiene and the importance of cleaning up after themselves, but you also get a tasty treat to eat at the end of all the fun!

Make bookmarks

If your child loves to read, then they will always be looking for something to mark their place in their book.  A bookmark making activity is both practical and fun.  Whether you go down the origami route, drawing and laminating, or sewing using binca or felt, there will be a bookmark activity to suit you and your kids.

Movie theatre

We can’t go to the cinema at the moment, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the experience.  Choose a great movie you all want to watch, dim the lights, put up the volume and snuggle down with a bowl of popcorn each.

Scout ActivitiesThe Scout Association - Wikipedia

The Scouts have been inspiring children and guiding them through learning skills for life in hands-on activities for over a Century.  Where better to turn for some great ideas for our children during lock-down.  Scouts – The Great Indoors is a great collection of activities curated by The Scouts during the first lockdown.  Even better – you might consider joining your local Scout Group (for boys and girls 6-18), many have been offering online Scouting throughout the pandemic as well as outdoor activities whenever restrictions allow. 

“Let’s go Live” and other Science experiments

There are lots of Science experiments and activities to do at home floating around the internet.  Some require a bit of preparation and equipment, others are a bit easier to manage.  An example is here on Good Housekeeping, or here on ScienceFun.org.  To get really inspired though, I would highly recommend “Let’s Go Live“, with Maddie and Greg on YouTube.  They present a fun video introducing a scenario, the Science and a lot of fun each week.

Board Games and Card Games

Yes, it’s time to get the Board Games and Card games out.  You’ll often need to do these with your children to begin with, while you teach them how to play and how to both win and lose gracefully!

Dressing up!

You don’t have to go out and buy a whole load of fancy-dress costumes.  A selection of hats, bags, scarves, and access to mum or dad’s wardrobe will provide a wealth of fun!  A challenge to “see who can wear the strangest costume” is a great way to get things started.

Image result for mini crafts for kids
Image from www.creativejewishmom.com

Making things in miniature

There are many great things about making things in miniature, but I’ll be honest, some of my favourites are that they  don’t use up much material and the projects don’t take up a lot of space! An internet search for “mini crafts for kids” reveals some lovely ideas from mini books to tiny polymer clay animals. Model railway scenery or dollhouse or fairy garden accessories also fall firmly into this category.

Home-made playdough

I’m a big fan of playdough. Not only is it fun, encourages creativity and imagination along with literacy skills as the child tells you what they are making, but it also builds up those motor skills and hand-eye coordination which are so important as children begin to write.  Here’s my recipe for home-made playdough: Mix 1 cup of plain flour, 1 cup water, 1/2 cup salt, 2tbsp veg oil, 2tbsp cream of tartare and food colouring in a saucepan over a medium heat.  Keep stirring as it turns from liquid to a dryish doughy mix.  This mix will keep well if covered. 

Paper aeroplanes

This is an excellent STEM challenge for older challenge.  There are a host of paper aeroplane instructions out there for lots of different aeroplane shapes.  Challenge your child or children to experiment with plane types, paper weight and size to find the best paper aeroplane in the following categories – paper plane that flies furthest, flies fastest, and is most acrobatic.

Water play

Technically this could be an indoor or an outdoor activity, but I’ve put it here because people often overlook the potential for water play indoors. Kitchen’s can usually be mopped, or the bath is a great place to contain water.  Whether this is a toddler just having a good splash and pouring water from one container to another, or an older child creating miniature boats, or finding a way to move water uphill, there’s something for everybody here.

Recycle box aquarium

Image result for cereal box aquarium
from TheBestIdeasforKids.com

This is one of the simplest ideas, and yet will not only occupy a rainy afternoon, but also creates something that can look great! Cut one side out of a cereal box.  Paint the outside.  Decorate the inside to look like an aquarium, then hang your fish from the top so they “swim”.  Fantastic!

Painting

Children LOVE painting and there are lots of reasons why it’s a valuable activity for them to do.  You can read a summary here at the Innovation Kids Lab. When my children were small I tended to get them to paint at an easel outdoors where possible, or in the kitchen with no clothes on!  As they got older, we had two types of paint – poster paints required table covering, aprons, and cleaning up together.  I also bought one of those tins of water colour tablets each for them (cheap and easy to get hold of).  These are a lot less messy and meant that the children could paint whenever they wanted to. Now, aged 10 and 11, they have access to a whole range of paints and are confident to both use them, and clean up after themselves!

Microwave mug cakes and armpit fudge

We’ve already talked about baking, but these are super-easy, super-quick, minimal equipment baking wonders.  Here are 34 different mug-cake recipes from Country Living Magazine.  Armpit fudge is one that sounds disgusting, but the kids will adore squishing all the ingredients together in a zip-lock bag under their arm and then digging in for a sweet-treat.  Full instructions here at www.mum-friendly.co.uk.   

Housework

I know, right?  This is a radical idea.  My eleven year-old still seems surprised when I expect him to help out around the house, despite the fact that we’ve been doing it since he was a toddler.  However, the importance of teaching children life skills, and the self-esteem they get from being useful can’t be overestimated.  In addition, doing housework together is more fun!

Dance contest or Zumba

Some kids just love to move and there’s no reason why this can’t happen in lockdown.  Dance mats and the software to run them are available for most games consoles, but you could also play videos of dance routines or Zumba to join in with, some are designed specifically to be child-friendly, or just put the music on loud and jump and dance around the room together like crazy. 

Outdoor things to do in lockdown 

Getting outdoors is more important than ever.  When you are cooped up in the same four walls day after day, little niggles soon become big irritations.  Getting some fresh air and exercise will make everybody feel better.  However, current guidance restricting travel for exercise, even a trip to the Gruffalo Trail at the local nature reserve is advised against.  Try some of these activities instead:

Treasure Hunt

A way to make a walk more fun and increase observation skills. Take a list of things to spot on your daily walk around the block.  This might include: somebody walking a dog, somebody with a push-chair, a red front door, a car from another country, somebody on a bike, snowdrops or crocuses.  Tick them off together as you find them.

Lawnside Play Park, Ledbury, Herefordshire - freeparks.co.uk
image from freeparks.co.uk

Local Park

The current rules state that playparks remain open primarily for those children who do not have their own garden. You can take your child to a playpark for exercise, but you should not socialise with other people while there. 

Bug Hunt

A bug hunt in the garden is a great way to get the children closer to nature in your own back garden and requires no equipment.  At this time of year, the bugs are hiding away, so it’s quite challenging.

Chalk Drawing

Get a pack of chalks and draw on the walls or paving slabs outside (it will all wash away in the rain).  Younger children will just enjoy making marks with a different medium, while older children can really  exercise their artistic talents – there are some lovely ideas here and here.

Build a nest

This activity really gets children thinking about how amazing birds are.  Make a bird nest using only natural materials.  Here are the instructions.

Feed the birds

This is the time of year when birds are most in need of a helping hand.  The insects are still hidden away for the winter, seeds are becoming scarce and mating and nesting is underway using up a lot of birdie energy.  Whether filling up bought bird feeders or making your own feeders from pipe-cleaners and Cheerios, from empty plastic bottlesor from toilet roll tubes.

outdoor frozen winter craft ideas for kids - ice suncatchersCreate frozen suncatchers

Frozen suncatchers will get your little ones thinking about the weather, and also about the natural materials around them. Find the instructions here.

Geocaching

With a free version of the Geocaching app, this is basically a free global treasure hunt!  Just create an account and you could soon be spicing up your walks by searching for and finding caches hidden on your route.

Whittling

Knife crime is reaching horrific rates, with more than 35,000 knife offences recorded between March 2019 and March 2020.  Rather than trying to keep our young people away from knives, we need to 1) give them confidence to tackle conflict in peaceful ways and 2) teach them that knives are useful tools to be handled safely, rather than weapons.  Some great advice on types of knife, safety and inks to appropriate videos and books, can be found on the fabulous Get Out With the Kids.

Firelighting

As a Scout Leader, I love teaching children to light fires.  First, you teach the theory and the safety – how to do the activity safely, when to light fires and when not to, adult supervision, where to light fires, extinguishing fires safely etc.  For beginners, lighting a match and lighting a candle is challenge enough.  Then progress on to learning about different types of kindling and fuel, and how to construct and build a fire.  Just collecting wood is an activity in itself!  As they get more experienced, you can look at lighting fires without using a match, trying out flint and steel, rubbing two sticks and the like. 

Bike ride

A bike ride is a brilliant way to keep fit and explore the area where you live.  Work out a safe cycle route, with as few roads as possible (or very quiet ones) and get out exploring on two wheels.

Place Kindness Rocks

Rock Painting Complete Guide to Painted Rocks | Kindness Stones or Rocks | Inspire Kindness
image from www.inspirekindness.com

Painting rocks is a lovely creative activity.  You can either paint images, turn your rock into a whimsical creature, or decorate your rock with a kind and inspiring quote.  On your next walk, place these inspiring rocks for others to find on their walks, and spread a little love and happiness.

Gardening

There are so many reasons to garden with children that I could write a whole blog post about it (and I might!).  From engaging senses, linking with nature, learning where food comes from, motor skills, vocabulary and more, spending time engaged in active work outdoors is really fulfilling and doing it together gives time to chat and spend time together.

Night hike

Going for a walk, even somewhere familiar, suddenly becomes more interesting and exciting if you go out in the dark.  The use of a torch is fun by itself, but try switching the torches off and see how your eyesight adjusts to the lower light levels and how your brain compensates by intensifying your other senses of smell and hearing.  You might even be lucky enough to spot more interesting wildlife such as bats, owls, foxes, hedgehogs or badgers that you wouldn’t see in daylight.

Create a “percussion wall”

Hang various old pans, wooden spoons and pipes and tubes from a wall, fence or tree in your garden to make a space where noise-making is encouraged and celebrated.

Star gazing

Before sunset gets too late for the little ones, take the opportunity to spend some time looking at the stars.  On a cloudless night, find the darkest place you can, away from street lights if possible – just a few miles out into the country makes all the difference, if restrictions allow.  Take a deckchair or blanket so you can lie down, and snuggle down into a sleeping bag or more blankets and check out the stars.  There are plenty of apps out there such as Star Chart or StarGazing that can tell you what you are looking at.  If you have a telescope or binoculars, you can examine the moon and stars more closely.  Keep warm with a hot chocolate.

Winter photography

How often do your children get involved with photography aside from daft selfies? Encourage them to broaden their photography horizons with a winter picture challenge.  Any camera will do.  Whether its getting up close to a dew-spangled spider-web, or taking photos of a hare in a snowy field, winter holds some fascinating scenes for those who take the trouble to frame a shot.

Tic Tac Toe - Stone Bees & Ladybugs - Red Ted Art - Make crafting with kids easy & funOutdoor noughts and crosses

So quick and easy to create, this can provide a quick activity for children to do together or with you at any time.  Paint pebbles in two different ways (I love this bumble bee and ladybird idea from Red Ted Art).  A 3 x 3 grid painted on a paving slab or log slice creates the playing zone.

Winter BBQ or cooking on an open fire

Following on from the firelighting activity earlier comes the liberating activity of cooking on fire.  Reaching back through the mists of time to prepare food just the way your ancestors did (or just toasting marshmallows on sticks!), is a fun and creative activity and creates a whole new taste adventure.  Look up “Backwoods cooking recipes” or “cooking on open fire” for some great suggestions.

Stick sword fight

So often in our risk-averse world we tell children to “put that stick down” or “watch out” and “be careful!”.  Wouldn’t it be great to take the brakes off and allow them to stick fight – or better yet, join in with them too!  

Local area exploration

Are your children often ferried in the car from activity to activity? This is particularly true for families in rural areas and you may have found that your “daily exercise” in lockdown has been the first time you’ve roamed your neighbourhood footpaths and byways.  It’s always fun to take time to “see where this goes” or follow a coin-toss adventure (at every junction toss a coin – heads = right, tails = left) to see where you end up.

I hope that you’ve found some great ideas for things to do in lockdown with your children at this time of year, despite the weather and the covid restrictions.  I’ll be writing in more detail about some of these activities in future posts, so do keep coming back for more.  I’d also love you to comment your own ideas of activities you’ve been doing with the children this Spring.

From the wonderful Monty Python and John Cleese: https://twitter.com/JohnCleese/status/1353764231288561664/photo/1

John Cleese – On Creativity


I think it would be very difficult for anybody to dispute that John Cleese is both playful and creative.  Co-founder of Monty Python, scriptwriter on The Frost Report, co-writer of Fawlty Towers and writer of “A fish called Wanda” and “Fierce Creatures”.

If anybody is well-placed to write a book about creativity it’s John Cleese.

Now, I’m obviously not going to give away all the guidance John gives in this, as it says on the cover, “short and cheerful guide”, because its a new book, and if I tell you all the answers then you won’t go and buy it!  

Suffice it to say, that he’s got some excellent advice and I recommend buying Creativity, by John Cleese. It’s also well worth following his irreverence on Twitter.

cover picture - the observation game

Playing games is a good thing. It brings people closer together, opens up observation and creativity and is a brilliant vehicle for our brains to engage with something (in short, you learn stuff without even realising!)

We’re not just talking about playing board games here. We’re talking about any kind of game. Games don’t have to involve dice and plastic counters, be packaged and sold. In fact, often it’s the simplest games that are easiest to slot into a busy day: Letter and word games while you’re waiting for a bus, observation games, tracking games and so on.

My daughter and I have recently started playing a new easy game to improve our observation skills.

It’s really a meld of the amazing effects of Sherlock Holmes and thinking about some of the intentions of Baden-Powell when he started the Scouts – he placed great stock in the skills of observation and suggests some great activities and games in “Scouting for Boys”.

How this easy game works

  1. While out for a walk (or in the car, though it’s much harder when you’re supposed to be concentrating on the road), we set ourselves a target. “Two questions by the junction with the tree.”
  2. As we walk that stretch of road, we observe very hard. We need to come up with two questions to ask our partner, but they will also be asking us two questions!
  3. At the end of the stretch, we ask our questions:
  • What were the numbers on the green exchange box?
  • What colour was the front door of number 14?
  • The man with the little girl was carrying a bag, what did it have written on it?
  • What was hanging in the window of the house with the Mercedes on the drive?

It’s a lot of fun and gets us taking more notice of our surroundings.

New Years Resolution - Be more playful

You may ask how, at this time, we can talk about playfulness.

I would argue that now is when we need playfulness more than ever.

Play in a time of trial

2020 has been a hard year and here in the UK it looks as though the beginning of 2021, with covid19 still rife, things are not going back to normal very quickly.

A glance at social media is enough to show just how much fear there is out there. People are worried for their livelihoods, worried for their health and their loved ones. Everybody is fed up of staying in and missing normal social interaction. There are grandparents who’ve never yet held grandchildren, and families who are worried they may not get to hug an elderly relative before it’s too late.

You may ask how, at this time, we can talk about playfulness.

I would argue that now is when we need playfulness more than ever.

How to be more playful in 2021

Playfulness is about finding the joy in the everyday. It’s about allowing creativity to flourish and its about making life more fun for everybody around you.

01

If it makes you smile – go for it!

If something makes you smile, embrace it. That pink metal flamingo that makes you smile every time you see it on the market stall? Buy it, put it in your garden. It will make you smile every time you look out the window. If you love that purple top or those rainbow knickers – wear them! As the Wiccans say “An it harm none, do what ye will.” Provided what makes you smile doesn’t cause any harm or problem to anybody – go for it! If you love chocolate, even if your other New Year resolution is to be healthy – buy a really high quality chocolate and have a little nibble. The happiness you get from it will more than compensate a few extra calories. Where possible – follow your whims!

02

Make contact with people

You can absolutely be playful on your own, but humans are social animals. Make plans that involve being playful with others, even if that involves video calls rather than face-to-face interaction.  Set up an online Escape Room or online game or quiz that you can do together. Create a funny family video to send to family. Make plans for the family holiday, get-together or party that you will enjoy when Covid releases its grip on the world.

03

Work Playfully

Working looks very different for different people – housework, studying, voluntary work, factory work, outdoor work, office work, management, shop work – you name it, we do it. Let’s make our working lives more playful and enjoyable. Whether that’s by singing (think of sea shanties), by incorporating something light-hearted (we all know somebody who likes to wear a different silly hat to each Zoom meeting), by gamifying our work (rewards and “levels”) or by encouraging more creativity in the workplace. We can make our working lives both more productive and more pleasurable by injecting a little playfulness.

04

Be creative

Creativity is the key to playfulness and I don’t just mean crafting, writing poetry or painting. Creativity  is the use of the imagination and fresh ideas. It can be applied to the dog walk or your daily jog – find a new route, listen to new music, allow yourself a little role-play (you’re a detective looking for clues!). If you’re writing something – rather than just doing it on the computer – can you print it out and draw your own border? We are all very quick to look for things on the internet, to download clipart – we seem to have forgotten the simple pleasure of drawing things ourselves! With cheap fashion, we forget the creative joy that comes with up-cycling or making it ourselves. Let’s make 2021 a more creative year! (On my other blog “Ink Spots and Grass Stains“, I’m going to be charting my creative efforts for 2021.)

05

Adventure

Most of us didn’t get many opportunities for adventures in 2020. There was a lot of staying at home to do. Adventure is naturally playful. It takes you out of the ordinary and unlocks your spirit of fun and creativity, problem solving and ingenuity. Adventures don’t have to be high-adrenaline activities (though they can be, and we can’t wait to go coasteering this year!), but can just be doing something different. In our family we revel in the “mini-adventure”. These usually involve Rosie the campervan, but aren’t necessarily camping trips. They usually involve going somewhere new. They may involve a walk or a bike-ride, they may involve a theme park or zoo, they may involve a picnic or a cafe. A mini-adventure could be a train trip to a nearby town, or a ride on a bus to “see where it goes”. Embrace the mini-adventure!

06

Play games

Games don’t have to involve plastic counters and dice. Playing games makes you feel good, it involves interacting with other people, it unlocks feel-good hormones and can improve brain power. Whether it’s a weekly game of scrabble, a word-game while you wait in line or an observation game with your children – try to get more games into your life. We’ll be adding lots of different games you can play on this site as the year goes by, so watch out for those.

Be more playful

So what will you be doing this year to be more playful?

8 Books about Play

 

If you’re reading this blog, this suggests that you believe in the power of play to make the world a better place, to develop children and adults into happier and more productive people.

This isn’t a new concept and some eminent authors, psychologists, philosophers and educators have written books about the importance of play. They are a great place to get ideas on how to incorporate more play in your teaching, in your parenting or in your life in general, as well as to find evidence to convince any sceptics out there.

In the interests of transparency, please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that, with no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. I will only recommend products that I believe are worth buying, not because of the links – they are just a helpful way for me to earn a little extra cash.

“Playful Teaching and Learning” 2017 –  by Glenda Walsh, Dorothy McMillan and Carol McGuinness

This textbook for early years practitioners explores how important play is throughout the early years setting, focusing on ages 3-8. Playfulness can and should be applied to all aspects of the early-years curriculum to captivate and maintain the interest of young children in their setting.

Available in paperback and in Kindle

 

“Playful Parenting” – by Lawrence J Cohen

Lawrence Cohen is a celebrated psychologist and he describes this book as “An exciting new approach to raising children that will help you: nurture close connections, solve behavior problems and encourage confidence.” He points out that by playing with our children we join them in their world.

Available in Paperback  and Kindle edition

 

 

The Idle Parent – by Tom Hodgkinson

I adore this book, and I think it’s probably what got me started on the realm of the Playful Manifesto.

Tom’s key suggestion is that children do a lot better when they aren’t being constantly coddled and carted from place to place.  When they have freedom to just… play, which frees up you, the parent to stop nagging them and join in with the play.

Available in paperback and on Kindle

 

 

“Playful Parenting – Fun Games and Activities for Families” – by Judy H Wright

This fabulous book from parent educator, Judy Helm Wright (Auntie Artichoke), has lots of practical ideas to bring a more playful approach to your family.

Available on Kindle 

“Homo Ludens” by Johan Huizinga

In this famous study of play across many cultures, Johan Huizinga defines play as a central feature of all flourishing societies. He talks about play in terms of law, language, poetry and myth and describes (starting with Plato) how play has defined the contribution of Man.

Available as paperbackand Kindle

Exuberance: The Passion for Life – by Kay Redfield Jamison

A Clinical Psychologist, Kay Redfield Jamison makes the link between child’s play and scientific breakthrough and talks about how this playfulness, which she describes as “exuberance” is critical in developing learning, social cohesiveness and survival.

Available on Kindle:

“Hop, Skip, Jump: 75 Ways to Playfully Manifest a Meaningful Life” by Marney K. Makridakis

Marney Makridakis explains how work and play can be blended to bring you happy success. She suggests three phases: dreaming (hop), experimenting (skip) and taking action (jump) and describes how we can discover our “play personality” to make work feel more like play.

Available in Paperback or Kindle Edition 

“Wonderland – how play made the modern world” Steven Johnson

In this book, Steven Johnson explains how playful creativity is the mother of invention and led to the development of a host of products and devices that we just couldn’t do without. From flutes made of bone to computers and the internet. Never dull, he gives practical reasons to back up the concept that we need play to develop new ideas.

Available in hardback: And kindle edition:

 

computer play

Recently I wrote about different types of play.  When I got to Computer Play I realised that I had opened a complete can of worms!

This is a very controversial area.

As far as I can see, its all about balance.  There are some potential problems to watch out for:

  • computer games can be very addictive.  It’s difficult to get off that screen once you’re on it.
  • Some computer games revel in violence.
  • despite the chat functions, gaming is often a solo pursuit.
  • While you may think your child is safe in their room, computer game chat rooms are the perfect haunt for unsavoury characters looking for vulnerable children.
  • Lots of other children are playing, yours may feel they are missing out.

Here are some guidelines:

  1. Everything in moderation.  We want our children to be able to make healthy choices in their lives, so it’s important that they get a good balance of outdoor, physical, creative and exploratory and social play as well as screen time.  There is no recommended limit on screen time in the UK, but the American Society of Paediatrics recommends no screen time at all up to 18 months, and then a maximum of 1 hour per day up to the age of 5.  Tell them the time limit before they start playing, and then give them 5 minutes warning before the time is up.
  2. Use the age ratings on games to ensure that the game is suitable for your child.  It’s tricky if their friend is playing a game that you don’t approve of, but talking to your child about why you don’t think it’s okay will help them understand.
  3. Play with your children when you can.  The computer game is a perfect babysitter, your child is sitting still and you can get on with something else.  However, they may get more out of it (and also take your time limits and guidance with more credence) if you occasionally play with them.  They get to teach you how to do things, they can show you and tell you what they enjoy about the game and you build a relationship.
  4. Talk to them about e-safety, the importance of not giving away any personal information in a chat-room, coming and telling you if they are worried about anything etc.  There are some great resources on ThinkuKnow to support this learning. 
  5. You should always know when your child is online or playing a computer game, and you should always be able to look over their shoulder and see what they are playing and what they are doing.  Hiding their computer game playing is a warning flag and you should talk to them.  It either means that they are playing when you haven’t agreed it (going over the agreed time limits), they are playing something that you wouldn’t approve of, or they are chatting in a way you wouldn’t be happy with.
Types of play

If you look up different types of play, you will almost certainly find the six stages of play development in pre-schoolers suggested by the research of Mildred Parten in 1932.  Parten suggested that children move through stages of: unoccupied play,  solitary independent play and onlooker play, to parallel play, associative play and then cooperative play.  You can find out more about this here on Purewow.

For older children though, it’s worth bearing in mind that being playful comes in lots of different guises.  Some children may develop a preference for one type of play over another, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but for a well-rounded child, it’s a good idea to encourage participation in a good balance of different types of play.

Below, I’ve summarised some of the different forms of play you will come across.

Physical Play

Playing on the swings, running races, monkey bars, tag, gymnastics in the sitting room, wrestling, spinning, skipping, football and badminton.  Your child may engage in physical play independently or with others.  When they engage in this play they aren’t doing it to “get fit” or “be active”, they are doing it because they enjoy it.  Sometimes they may initiate an element of competition, but that isn’t the most important thing in the play.

 

Creative play

Any play where the child is able to use their imagination to make something or to create a world in their head can be termed creative play.  This includes the worlds they can create with building blocks, Lego, dolls houses and playmobil as well as drawing, painting, playdough, crafts and story-writing.  Sometimes they may be following instructions or building a kit, at other times they may be creating more freely from their own imagination.

Role play

Role play is a really important way for your child to make sense of the world around them.  From “feeding baby” with a doll, to a complex game of “cops and robbers” or “mums and dads” as they start school.  Role play can be inspired by a story, or by providing a few props.  A basket of generic dressing-up items – you don’t have to buy ready-made costumes, which are limited to one character – a beard, a few hats, a toy stethoscope and a hand-bag from the charity shop, can be put to a very wider range of uses.  In their free time on the playground children still happily engage in role-play games right through Primary school, and after that, this is often developed through drama, plays or role-play games like Dungeons and Dragons.

Exploratory play

Exploratory play is where a child chooses to use their senses to explore the world around them.  This may be just sitting and scrunching leaves, or it may be peering through a telescope at the moon.  Making mud-pies, grabbing your own toes, squelching slime, pouring water from one container to another, playing with the door stop, cooking, and building sand-castles.  All involve exploring different materials.

word play

As they develop more facility with language, children add word play to their repertoire.  To begin with they will enjoy playing with rhyming or alliterative sounds, coming up with rhyming words, learning nursery rhymes and short poems etc.  Later they may enjoy finding out new words, creating acrostic poetry or acronyms, doing word-searches and finding and sharing puns or jokes which play on words.

social play

Technically this isn’t a type of play.  It’s just one of the ways play happens.  This is a natural progression.  By the time they reach Primary School, most children are happy to play cooperatively with other children as well as playing on their own.  The social skills involved in negotiating a shared game, establishing rules, sharing props, solving conflicts and communicating, or of being gracious both in defeat and victory are all part of the learning curve on the way to adulthood and this type of play is vital in developing them.

 

computer play

There’s a lot of controversy about computer games and screen time for children. 

There are a wide variety of computer games for children.  Some encourage coding, building and creating online (LegoWorld, Minecraft and Roblox), others involve a fantasy world where you collect things and solve problems, and others just involve a bit of in-computer role play – the hair salon or the vets.

We live in an age of technology and games have been designed that are fun, beautiful and inspiring (as well as some rubbish, just like anything else!).  

We should approach computer play like any other type of play, and ensure that our children are playing on the right game, with the right people, and getting a healthy balance.  I’ll be writing more about this at a later date.

Number play

Sadly, many adults have negative ideas about numbers and maths.  Be open to the idea of playing with numbers.  Children love to be able to count – counting steps, counting food, counting money; measure – for cooking etc. and to find and repeat patterns.  All these are great for developing maths skills but are also intrinsically fun – watch the delight a child can have playing with and sorting a big tub of buttons!  This kind of play includes board games – matching numbers to symbols on the dice and moving the corresponding number of spaces; dominoes; darts; counting games; there are some great times tables games on the computer; card games etc.

Musical Play

There’s always that irritating uncle whose idea of a joke is to get your child the noisiest toy in the shop.  The joke’s on them because while you hope that your child won’t strike up the band at six in the morning, playing that recorder or that tambourine is helping them develop their rhythm.  Opt for child versions of percussion toys or small “real” instruments rather than electronic noise toys.  Make a band together and play along gleefully (if tunelessly) to your favourite songs on the radio while parading around the kitchen.

Bringing it all together

You can probably visualise your child engaging in some of these different types of play and you will probably have a good idea of their preferences.  The thing to remember is that each of these different types of play is important for child development.  Make space for a good balance of lots of different types of play in your child’s life or in your child-care setting.  Encourage children to try different types of play (the best way to do this is always to start playing yourself – they will soon want to come and join you!).

A good mix of types of play will lead to a good mix of fun!

 

Play is important

You may have heard me mention that play is important.  It’s important for child development, but it has many benefits for adults too.

Despite knowing the benefits, statistics show that the amount of time set aside for play has been declining for decades.  All adults out at work mean family time is tighter and more scheduled and structured.  Parents are more fearful about allowing their children to play outside or unsupervised and the power of the screen is pulling children and adults away from creative, imaginative or physical play.

Improve brain function

The mental activity involved in playing games such as chess, bridge or cards, doing puzzles and jigsaws keep the brain active and help to ward off memory problems.

Learn more

We learn best when we are having fun.  If you are in a relaxed and playful mood your brain is more receptive to new ideas and building connections.

Relieve stress

Play can trigger the release of natural body chemicals called endorphins.  These make you feel good.  Playing with family and friends provides a social network that can ward off stress and depression.

Boost creativity

Play relies on imagination.  Imagination is what helps us to “think outside the box” to be creative and to solve problems.

Improve relationships

Having fun together develops empathy, compassion and trust.  Being playful can help you as you approach new situations, meet strangers and foster new business relationships.

Develop Social Skills

Children learn social skills as part of the give and take of play.  From learning that snatching a toy from another child makes them sad to feeling how cooperative play is more fun than solo.  They learn verbal and non-verbal communication, boundaries, cooperation and teamwork.  

Decision making

When we choose how to play we practice decision making skills and discover our own areas of interest.

Active and healthy

While there are many benefits to playing computer games, they are highly addictive.  Active play, on the other hand, helps to build healthy bodies, increasing physical activity.

I really like the infographic on thegeniusofplay.org, which shows some of the facts and stats about why play is important, and tells you the study or work that provided the information.

slapstick and physical comedy

What are slapstick and physical comedy?

From the Ancient Greeks to the Middle Ages when every noble house had its fool or jester; from Charlie Chaplin in the silent movies right through to programmes like “Total Wipeout” or “You’ve been framed”; humans have laughed at physical comedy and slapstick.  Many of our most popular cartoons are also based on slapstick, from Tom and Jerry to the Wily Coyote.  So what are slapstick and physical comedy, what are the differences?  Why do we laugh at it – and should we?

Physical comedy has a wider definition than slapstick.  Physical comedy involves the manipulation of the body or face for comic effect, rather than through the use of words.  This can include slapstick, mime, stunts, funny faces and clowning.  Slapstick, then, is a distinct type of physical comedy.  Slapstick revolves around fake and exaggerated violence and dramatic buffoonery involving improbable situations, or ordinary situations that go wrong (usually resulting in pain).  

Both are considered “low comedy” as oppose to the “high comedy” that takes advantage of sophisticated dialogue through wit and satire.  Research by medical anthropologist Ann Hale (University of Sydney) suggests that the humour involved in physical comedy is actually deep-seated and that even babies under the age of 1 can find humour in their parent doing something unusual – whether that’s peek-a-boo or mum crawling into the room instead of walking.

Great physical comedians in present day

These people use their whole bodies for comic effect.  If you find yourself laughing at something when there’s no dialogue, that’s physical comedy:

  • David Schwimmer (plays Ross Geller in Friends) – if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, rewatch the scene with the leather pants.
  • Michael McIntyre.  This sketch is magnificent.
  • Rowan Atkinson.  This video explains his fabulous physical comedy skills.
  • John Cleese – here with The Ministry of Silly Walks
  • Jim Carey – here with his many faces (also very good at falling over)
  • Mike Meyers – here are some great moments.

Isn’t laughing at slapstick cruel?

When you watch a group of children sitting at a puppet show laughing at a man puppet beating his wife puppet and a police puppet beating somebody over the head with a truncheon, you have to ask if this is right.  When we watch TV programmes centred on people falling off things, falling over, or accidentally hurting themselves… is this comedy or cruelty?  In many slapstick routines or comedies based on this, there is a “fool” character – Mr Bean, the 3 Stooges, the side-kick criminal in Home Alone, Dumb and Dumber.  Are we laughing at the misfortune of somebody who isn’t that clever?

I personally think that we should treat this pretty carefully.  I love physical comedy – see my list of top physical comedians below – and I love to laugh at people using their bodies in an amusing and artful way.  I’ve also got to be honest and own up to finding some gratuitous violence pretty entertaining too (I love the Die Hard movies).  However, I do think we should be careful when we laugh at people getting hurt or hurting one another, or when we laugh at “the fool” who is the brunt of all the pain.  It’s a slippery slope.

The danger is that if we are amused by people hurting themselves – for example in “You’ve been Framed” – we may find ourselves laughing at the person who falls over on the ice, instead of rushing over to help them up and checking they are okay.

How can we make physical comedy part of our playful lives?

To start with, take an ordinary task.  Making scrambled eggs for example.  Imagine all the things that could go wrong with this task: you can’t get the fridge door open, you drop the pan on your foot, you drop the egg and it makes a mess everywhere.  To create a funny sketch: take one of these imaginary problems and pretend that’s what’s happened.  Take the fridge door not opening: (a great example here from Friends).  It’s not just having the problem though – it’s how you react to it and what you do.

Pick your moment though.  A bit of physical comedy every now and then is hilarious, takes us out of the humdrum of everyday life and makes us laugh.  Somebody hamming up every single task all day long would become pretty annoying.  Gauge the reaction of your audience.

 

podcasts about play

As I’m exploring more about the benefits of play I am discovering so much out there – there’s a whole world of play to discover!  Here is a run-down of a few podcasts about play that I can’t wait to listen to:

 

“Fearlessly Playful” by Dr Kate Raynes-Goldie

A podcast featuring conversations with people changing their lives with the power of play.  Kate Raynes-Goldie travels the world helping organisations

“The Playful Pivot”

Three short podcasts about how play can help you live the life you want.

“Playful Intelligence” with Dr Anthony DeBenedet

Author of “Playful Intelligence: the Power of Living Lightly in a Serious World” explains how playfulness can counteract the seriousness of everyday life.

Rabya Lomas on prioritising creativity and playful living.

Rabya Lomas is best known for the amazing and beautiful playful images on her instagram account.

The Abundant Mama – a fun reminder to add playfulness to every day.

Tanis Frame talks about “thriving” – but to thrive, we need to be playful.