Jul 15 2015

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How to Help your Child Play: The Power of Time

The power of time to play

How to Help your Child Play: The Power of Time

We’re not our kids’ entertainment system. When we think about play and, more specifically, time devoted to play, we often try to fit it into our schedule without consideration of the impact that time has on our child. Time is powerful. When it comes to time, include time for transitioning in and transitioning out of play as well as time to complete a play episode.

Transitioning into play

When a child is transitioning into play, he needs to become acclimated to his space and materials. There’s a process of heart and mind investment. This may happen so quickly you don’t notice it’s happening. When a child is struggling to transition in, you know it.

Transition into play is quick when a child…

  1. Is familiar with his space and materials and is returning to a previously positive play experience.
  2. Senses there is enough time to engage in play. If a child is repeatedly short-changed and not given enough time to finish a play episode, he will hesitate.
  3. Sees materials that are novel. Novelty can be created by using familiar materials in a new or unexpected way or by introducing unfamiliar materials.
  4. Feels safe. Safety is not only feeling comfortable with the people within the environment but knowing boundaries.

Transition into play is slow when a child…

(Outside of the ideas that help a child transition into play quickly)

  1. Is not allowed to be self-directed. Freedom to be creative intensifies future play experiences. When a child is told how to play, it creates a dependence on someone else to instruct play. Moreover, a child who is free to direct play will be more motivated to play from the onset of a new play episode.
  2. Does not have stories. Reading books and telling stories build imagination. Books and storytelling feed play.

Once a child has transitioned into play

When a child has invested his heart into play he is in “the zone” similar to an athlete’s zone. The child is focused. The time a child takes to maintain that focus varies. You can help your child get into “the zone” and lengthen the time of heightened play.

After a period of time, you have a choice: Either let the child finish the play episode or provide a verbal “transition out” statement. Include a time perimeter like “We will need to leave in ten minutes.” Even better, you could ask the child how much time he needs. This question, even for a child who doesn’t have a clear sense of time, gives him ownership on his play.

If given unlimited time, a child with a well-developed ability to play will be engaged in play for long periods of time that can include revisiting and reestablishing play from a previous time. There comes a time when the child is done and ready for something else. He can end his time of play on his own. Many times, my children will come to me to show me what they were “working on” during their play time. Those conversations are valuable for them and for you. Don’t miss out.

But I don’t have time!

As beautiful as this is, unlimited play is not always practical. Endeavor to give your child time to play. Whenever you can bend and give more time, do. Not only are you helping them develop lifelong skills, you’ve giving them a gift.

Transitioning out

Helping your child to transition out of play when time is limited is essential. Just like you don’t want to be interrupted while you are in the middle of something you find significant, a child doesn’t want to be interrupted while in the middle of play. Take time to allow for the child to transition, and you will find the disruption of play positive for both you and your child.

Read about providing space

Take time to observe your children when it comes to play. What do you notice about your child’s transition into and out of play? Have you seen him in the “zone?” Read about how to help your child by providing space, another essential in giving your child the gift of play.

What questions do you have about time as it concerns play?


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