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!
I 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, and 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.