Summer Play

July 1, 2013, Parenting Success Network

Today’s blog post is submitted by our summer contributor, Kara Olsen-Becerra.

It is officially summer here in the Willamette Valley! There are so many wonderful things to do, people to see, and places to visit during summer in Oregon, but as you are making your family’s summer schedule, don’t forget to allow plenty of time for unstructured play. In David Elkind’s book “The Power of Play,” he says: “Play is not a luxury, but rather a crucial dynamic of healthy physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development at all ages.” Because play is so beneficial in promoting all of the areas of development, it truly is the great work of a child.

A snapshot of how Gabe spends a lot of his time
A snapshot of how Gabe spends a lot of his time

Most parents realize that play is important for children, but life can be so hectic and filled with distractions and barriers that often don’t allow for the right amount of time and conditions for a child to really take off with their imaginations.

  1. Too much on the calendar. It is possible to fill a child’s schedule too full, even if it is with good things. As you are signing your child up for summer camps, play-dates, and planning your summer vacations, try to be thoughtful about leaving plenty of down time for your child to get lost in imagination. I can see a big change in my children’s behavior when we are in always on the move and rushing around to our many activities or commitments.
  2. Media and Technology. For current recommendations on how much screen time is recommended for your child’s age, you can visit the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website. If you feel like your child is in the habit of too much screen time, summer is a perfect time to start weaning them away from too much use of technology. There are so many wonderful things to do and explore outside, so many children may find the weaning process easier during the summer. It truly is a gift to help a child realize that they can create their own entertainment instead of feeling like they need to always be entertained.
  3. Too many toys. It seems like a child who has tons of toys will always have something to do, but this isn’t always the case. Children who have too many toys and options often bounce from toy to toy or activity to activity instead of really engaging in any one toy. If you’ve been meaning to simplify your child’s toy pile but haven’t found the time, summer is a great time. You can have a garage sale or set some of the toys out of sight and occasionally rotate toys and books.
  4. It is great for children to spend time playing by themselves, with friends, or with siblings, but we also know that our children love to play with us. I know as a parent, it can sometimes feel a little monotonous to play with our children how they want to play. I can not even count how many times I have been asked to read “Llama Llama Learns to Share” by my two year old, but she is thrilled and learning something new each time she hears it. I know that it often feels like there aren’t enough hours in a day to get everything done that we need to, but to take even 15 minutes to play in a child centered way will speak volumes to your child about modeling play yourself and showing them that their interests matter to you.

Here are some ideas that you can try this summer to help your children really get lost in play:

Sofia, age 7, lost in a book
Sofia, age 7, lost in a book
  1. Have simple art supplies available for your children to use at will. You don’t need anything fancy: crayons, markers, paper, watercolors, envelopes for letter writing, scissors, glue, and paper can create hours of entertainment.
  2. Make sure to when possible allow plenty of time for transitions between scheduled events or errands. We all know what happens when we have tried to squeeze in that one extra errand when our kids gave us signs long before that they were ready for down time. Sometimes there are many things that need to happen or get done in a day, but when possible, try to slow the pace down.
  3. Let your children be outside as much as possible this summer! Go berry picking, to local parks, to the swimming pool, set up a sprinkler in your own yard, or take a nature walk at your child’s pace, stopping to collect sticks and to look and bugs.
  4. Set up a tent in your yard just for fun. My husband did this a few days ago with our kids, and they have entertained themselves for hours.
  5. Go on bike rides as much as possible.
  6. Most young children are excited about helping out around the house. Find creative ways to make work play. My kids love to help wash the cars or to help harvest food from the garden.
  7. After checking out books from the library, set out a picnic in your yard in the shade with a nice blanket with all of the books on it. My kids love to explore books and be read to outside.
  8. When my kids whine that they are bored, I like to remind them that my mom would put us to work doing chores if we said that at my house growing up. This will often be enough for my kids to run off to play, and although sometimes it can be helpful to redirect or give a new idea to a child, it can also sometimes be beneficial to let them deal with their boredom. Sometimes the most magical and beautiful play I have witnessed my kids engage in has happened minutes after listening to them complain about how bored they were.
A sibling tea party
A sibling tea party

Fewer things in life make me happier than seeing my children lost in play. I love hearing my 5 year old belting out the new song that he made up while he swings. I love watching my 2 year old talk to and care for her babies. I love when my 7 year old leads the other children in theatrical role plays in the yard. I hope that you also find joy this summer in playing with your children and in observing them lost in play, knowing that you are helping your child bloom and grow. Happy Summer!

Kara Olsen-Becerra loves working with children and families. She taught the Live and Learn with Your Baby classes in Corvallis for 6 years, and she is currently working as a nutrition educator with the Linus Pauling Institute-Healthy Youth Program. She loves being a part of this great community, and she loves being silly and playing with her husband and three young children.