Unstructured Play – Here We Come!

Unstructured Play – Here We Come!

Last week I was beginning to panic about not having summer activities planned out.  I was frantically looking for activities to sign our 2-year-old son up for and trying to come up with ideas for our 14-year-old. Then I came across an article about the importance unstructured outside play.  This article reassured me that my original decision to take it one day at a time and not be over programmed was a good choice.

So we have embarked on a summer where we “Fly by the Seat of our Pants.” Last Friday my little man stated he wanted to see a train. Fast forward one hour and we were sitting on the CTrain heading downtown with no destination in mind.  Then we landed at the zoo where he was able to run around in the dinosaur area.  We then turned around and went home via the train.  It was liberating to go with the flow.  Seeing the smile on my son’s face was awesome. The best part was when it was nap time it took a grand total of 2 minutes for him to fall asleep.

Yes, we do have a vague plan.  For instance, we know we will be going to visit relatives.  I have brainstormed a number of activities we can do.  I will be making an activity jar for the days I cannot decide what to do that day.  I will simply put a number of activities on pieces of paper in a jar.  The day I cannot decide to the jar I go!!!

Some of the ideas of activities for our youngest is as follows:

  • explore the neighbourhood
  • feed the ducks
  • indoor pools
  • spray parks
  • check out the many playgrounds in Calgary and surrounding areas
  • visit Butterfield Acres (awesome interactive farm for children)
  • backyard play
  • visit the zoo
  • bubble play
  • hiking
  • throwing rocks in a stream or river
  • water play with hoses and sprinklers

I then had another awesome realization!! I do not need to be the entertainment squad when my 14-year-old is here.  He is an awesome young man that will follow along with his little brother if he chooses too.  He is great at finding things to do.  If he cannot, I will have a list of chores waiting for him! (A very easy way to encourage a teen to keep busy).  I will admit he loves electronics but limits are a good thing!

Unstructured playMy goal is to engage in as many child-directed play activities as possible.  In a previous post, I explained how to engage in child-directed play.  I am constantly amazed at how inventive and imaginative young ones can be when given the chance.

For example, we went to Spruce Meadows for the National Show Jumping event yesterday.  We were in the line for our youngest to ride a pony.  I originally thought it was going to be a painful wait.  He kept himself (and me)  entertained by running around (literally in circles), playing with some children he just met, picking grass, and then he starting practicing his gymnastics. I am so happy that I have made the choice not to worry about keeping my youngsters entertained all summer and refocused my plan to having fun and enjoying them as much as I can.

My wish for you is that you get to take time out for yourself and find things to do that work for you and your family.

The More They Play, The Better They Sleep

The More They Play, The Better They Sleep

Play promotes sleep in young children and is an important part of a child’s daily routine.

Play starts at a young age.  Play looks so different depending on the age of your child.  The more they play the better they sleep!  Bring on the play!!

With a newborn, you will hear a great routine is EAT PLAY SLEEP.  This routine will help to prevent your child from developing an eat to sleep dependency.  How do you play with a newborn??  You change their diaper, sing, look out the window, play with a rattle, look at pictures or just hold them and talk.  Since newborns sleep a great deal (16 to 18 hours) there is a limited time that there are awake to play.

As an infant ages, they will require more and more stimulation.  As your child grows, they will start to take an interest in different objects.  You might go out and buy the most elaborate toy but it is the box that it comes in that is the best for infants and toddlers (just watch closely – chewing hazard!).  Then they start to get mobile and find their own objects to like and dislike.  A few loud toys got thrown across the room in our house and it was not by me!

2012-10-01 11.40.54I quickly discovered the more fresh air I put into our day, the more sleep my little man was getting.  When possible, we go out.  This started when he was quite young.  At the beginning, it was a stroller ride.  Then it evolved into playing at the park, going for a walk around the block, playing in the backyard, going to the zoo, and so on.   It does not have to be an elaborately planned activity.

For my sanity, I enjoy meeting up with other people so I have some grown up conversation.  Meeting up with others also gives my little man a chance to have a change in his scenery and play with other children.  He feeds off their energy!!  It is great.  He will come home and nap like a trooper!!!

We are enrolled in some community activities as well.  We are in gymnastics, a pre-preschool program for 2.5 hours 1 day a week, and dance class.  Considering my son is just 2.5 this is a great deal of activity.  I strongly encourage not to program children too much.  Still, leave time for spontaneous activity.

There are so many options available for children that it can be overwhelming!  There are gym programs, art programs, music programs, sports, library programs, 2012-09-15 19.04.57and dance programs.  A great deal of the programs run for 6 to 12 weeks at a time.  There are some programs that are consistent Monday to Friday from early morning until the late afternoon like child care settings and day homes.

I love to find drop-in programs that do not require pre-registration or free activities.  These programs are excellent on the days that my brain is fried and I just need instant entertainment for my son.  Great examples of these activities are: drop-in storytime at your local library, coffee shop, and zoo; drop-in play groups at your local gym, community centre, bookstore and churches; and our favourite is the walk around the mall (some malls have a great drop in play area).

All the activities I previously discussed are great options; however, some days you just cannot leave the home.  On the days that we cannot get out I notice an increase in his temper tantrums and his naps seem to be shorter.  To prevent tantrums in the house I try to bring out activities that are not done daily.  A favourite of mine is building forts (aka throwing a blanket over something and hiding in there!!).  My little man enjoys playing music, so out come the pots, pans, and plastic containers.  I call this our instant band.

Now, not all children are like mine.  Not all children love to be out and about.  If your child is a person that likes to stay close to home; honour that when you can.  You can have so much fun playing at home.  If your child likes to stay home and naps well then do that.

Child-directed play is a great way to enhance your child’s independence.  This is when you let your child take the lead in the activity.  You let them choose what the activity is going to be.  You also let them be in control.  If they want to change the activity and do it in a different way I challenge you to let them.  For example, my 2.5-year-old will ask to play cards (yes we started him early)!  To him, playing cards is putting the cards on the table and he grabs some and gives you some.  Then he starts placing them down on the table. I have no idea what I am doing but I just follow his lead.  He is one proud little boy when someone will play cards his way!

Please enjoy the time you can play with your little ones.

Now excuse me while I go play with bubbles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to Routine: Is It a Good Thing or Not?

Back to Routine: Is It a Good Thing or Not?

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” Thanks to a certain office supply store, this song repeats in my head every year at back to school time. I love the song but I am not so sure it is true. If you talk to my 13-year-old stepson he will tell you that school is okay but he enjoys his unscheduled summer.

This time of year is filled with back to school shopping, going back to school, early morning wake ups, lunch prep, homework, and the never ending extra-curricular activities. Insert a big sigh…

That was my glass is half empty approach! People that know me well know that I am a glass is half full kinda girl.

The things I like about this time of year are as follows:  I know when I need to do school pick up;  when I get to cheer on my boys at basketball; when we do toddler friendly dance and gymnastics; when I have time to spare; and when I need to get ready to pull out my hair.

Children crave and require predictability and routine.  Visual schedules and calendars with lists of activities are helpful.  Do not forget to schedule some down time and time to explore with their imaginations.  I have observed that children that know what is going to happen next are less anxious.  A very good example of routine and schedules would be bedtime!

A bedtime routine should be no more than 45 minutes in duration.  A typical bedtime is as follows:

  1. Snack
  2. Bath
  3. Brush teeth
  4. Read Books (no more than 3)
  5. In bed
  6. Lights out

I believe that predictable routines and schedules make life as a parent so much easier!!  Visual schedules (lists of words and pictures) are great for toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children.  When you include your child in making the schedules they seem to follow them with more zest. Children love pictures!  Schedules with pictures and words serve a double purpose (just do not tell your kids!).  These schedules can help keep children on task and they teach word recognition!  Have fun making your visuals!

Schedules and routines rock!

Take care and happy sleeping,

Brenda

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