Coronavirus: Time to Play in the Home School Day

Mum? Will you play with me?

I stall. Have you finished your maths?

If I’m honest, locked down and despondent, I don’t find play time easy. I find it easier by far to cajole and encourage Nancy to solve a few more problems. Or write a few more sentences. Or help her to research a new project, or film her jumping around to a new fitness video. Anything is easier than to put down my own screen, get up, and play with her.

Why Kids Need To Play

Mum? Please will you play with me?

I’m a huge fan of playtime. I have written previously about the importance of finding time for play in our children’s lives.

Now, like learning, play needs to happen at home. But I don’t feel like playing at the moment. I want to continue to justify my existence / maintain some sense of self esteem by creating work projects and developing new IT skills from my kitchen table. Or just hide under the duvet. Playing seems like a paltry option, when the national news provides endless examples of people losing lives and livelihoods. Closer to home and crippling my capacity to play further, is the news just in, my friend was made redundant today after 27 years in the leisure industry.

In a recent paper from a Sussex University group, PlayFirst UK, we are reminded that “Play is beneficial during times of anxiety, stress and adversity : it provides a sense of control and independence; it helps children make sense of things they find hard to understand; it supports their coping and resilience.” PlayFirst UK have made some resonant recommendations for the importance of play in the plans for the return to school. You can read the full document here:–supporting-childrens-social-and-emotional-wellbeing-during-and-after-lockdown.pdf

Nancy’s hopes about returning to school always begin and end with playtime. Yet depressing stories in the national news suggest that playtime at school is going to be very different, for a long time to come. So we’d better get used to the idea of playtime at home, because our kids need to play, and whilst they can’t play with each other, they need to play with us.

In real life, back in the day when such things were possible, I often didn’t feel like going to the gym. I would succumb to cracking out an extra piece of work in the designated gym slot in my personal timetable. But then I would make myself get up from my desk and into my trainers and out of the house. I knew I would feel better for it, when I experienced that familiar uplift of my spirits as well as my heart-rate as I got going on the cross-trainer.

I know that creative play will have a similar effect on my spirits, if I can get myself to engage with my inner child and get playtime going with the child beside me, still looking hopefully in my direction. So we grab a netball and head into the garden for some chest-pass practice. That’s an easy ask, backwards and forwards, no creative intervention required. Yet quick responses and instant decision making with the ball are good ways to move into a play state of mind.

And now I’m up, I’m off. Here’s some more ideas for partnering up and playing with your tween.

How To Play At Home With Your Tween

Board games and card games can prompt spontaneity – I love Dobble: the grown-up version of Snap, it makes my heart beat faster and my spirits lift every time. Then, there are two ways of approaching sewing and baking, in my view. Some people follow instructions carefully and make corrections first. Others, myself included, stick bits together and throw things in (and whilst this works with my cooking, my sewing is, erm, original…). With paint, I’m no expert, but play is about process, not product; what’s important is how you do something, not what you achieve. Would it be fun to do some printing with a plate of paint and some fruit and vegetables – half a tomato, a slice of cucumber, a twirl of dried pasta or a long thin strip of fresh spaghetti…? What if we roll the twist, drag the spaghetti, squish the tomato and stamp the cucumber…? (Does this sound like the crafting activity of the playgroup days? It is – they have all the fun!) I think we stop doing this stuff with our tweens because it makes a mess, both on the kitchen floor and on the piece of paper that we expect to start looking less messy and more like a work of art by the time our prodigies hit their tweens. I say, forget the mess, just enjoy the fun of making it! Then maybe look up conceptual art or Jackson Pollock on the internet, if you feel the need. OK, now I’m on a roll: use story cubes for some spontaneous tall tales; create an obstacle course in the garden; challenge each other to come up with the most original moves in a dance routine; use the garage band app or similar to add new beats to old tracks. Now, the day has found its own beat box and everyone feels better for it.

Grown Ups Need To Play Too

I need to play, now more than ever. I need to lift my own spirits in order to get down to the serious business of playing with my daughter. Defining what play time means for myself has been an important part of my week – if I know what it is, I can aim to get it. So how do I play: how do I spend time without needing to achieve something; how do I experience freedom of thought or action; how can I allow myself to respond spontaneously, without the fear of repercussion that stops spontaneity in its tracks? My best play time this week was the hour I spent in my friend Thelma’s kitchen, a virtual visitor on FaceTime, two mugs of tea between us and our screens. This wasn’t a time to be deep and meaningful, we didn’t reach conclusions or put the world to rights. There was no direction, no requirement, nothing much of any consequence was said. We sipped tea. We nattered. In this fraught and anxious world, we relaxed enough to laugh together, and that felt truly luxurious. As I left her kitchen, Thelma was setting up some baking with her daughter and I was ready to do likewise with mine. Mission accomplished, through spending time with no mission in sight and nothing at all to accomplish.

I can hear that school bell ringing in my head – it’s play time.

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