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Yesterday, whilst I was once again packing away toys and trying to reveal the floor beneath, I noticed that lots of the things that were laying around were old toys that had long been stored at the back of cupboards and rarely played with anymore.

Ordinarily, they might have made their way to a charity shop, perceived as unnecessary clutter, but, in this strange time, I was glad to see the old familiar toys strewn across the living room floor.

There has long been a school of thought, that children have too many toys and that they only play with 5% of them. Too many toys out at once are alleged to cause children to become confused and unfocussed.

Researchers at the University of Toledo, Ohio, invited toddlers to play in a room for half an hour with either four toys, or sixteen toys. Their study concluded that the children who had less toys were more creative in their play and more focussed.

However, this study watched children for only half an hour. We have been in lockdown at our house for almost eighty days. Eighty long days, where the world has been turned on its head, fear and anger dominate all media and the normality that we knew is no longer normal.

Despite being a qualified teacher, my priority during this time has not been structured academic work every day for my children. My priority has been allowing all of us the space and time to play and create; to escape the outside world, to ease the pressure on us all and to just be.

The first couple of weeks were tricky, as we tried to find a new way of being, but gradually we have all fallen into a playful rhythm. Old toys and new toys have been thrown into the mix to create new games that can last for hours and sometimes even days.

A particular favourite at the moment, is an old box of Build a Bear clothes that my youngest children (aged 5 and 6 years) have loved exploring once more. They have spent hours dressing up their soft toys, and each outfit has led to a new theme and a new game. From garden parties and hide and seek, to bedtime routines and nurturing play. These clothes have been combined with all sorts of other props to create hours of glorious fun.

Other toys that have been popular have been our magnetic tiles combined with small world toys, Lego, Playmobil, puzzles, board games, musical instruments, Sylvanian Families and the doll’s house, wooden blocks and an old pop up tent that gets dragged around the garden.

My eldest son (12) has also been enjoying a much more creative way of life during lockdown. He has been building gliders with balsa wood and learning about the principles of flight. He has also been involved in more play with his younger siblings and his anxiety has decreased immensely.

I am not suggesting that we will live in this perpetual state of chaos forever, I love a cube storage box system as much as the next parent, and there are some days, when every box has been emptied onto the bedroom floors, that I do start to twitch. But I know that somewhere, in that pile of toys, are three happy children, doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing.

So yes, lockdown has been difficult for us all in many ways and the fear and anxiety of the world weigh heavy on my mind. But one silver lining is that I have watched my children grow and develop through free play in a way that I have never been able to before, and I genuinely believe that it has helped us all.

#play #parenting #lockdown #freeplay #childhood

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For the past half an hour or so, I have been pottering around my house doing various bits and pieces that needed to be done on a rainy Monday morning.

Meanwhile, my youngest son has been left to his own devices and is currently lost in a world of Playmobil Vikings and Pirates. There are ships sailing across the living room, there are conflicts occurring between characters, there is narrative and there is even musical accompaniment, as he hums a little tune to himself.

He has not said a word to me – I’m not even sure if he’s aware that I am here. I will not interrupt him nor ask what he is doing, because I do not want to burst his delicious bubble of pure childhood play.

Stepping away from my children and enabling this to happen has not come easily to me, and it has taken a long time, and three children, to recognise the real value of doing this, both for myself, and most importantly for my children.

It’s hard as a parent, to resist the urge to butt in, to question them and ask what they are doing, or to enquire what they want for lunch. It is hard – but it’s not impossible.

As a parent, I have often felt that I am expected to provide and be the entertainment and education for my children at all times. I felt that if I just ‘left them to it,’ even for a short time, I was being lazy, and a day of doing ‘nothing’ at home was a total waste of a day - parenting guilt would always set in. How wrong I was. As a family we had done plenty on those days, jobs had been completed and the children had played all day, the benefits of which were immense.

I believe that as parents today, we place ourselves under far too much pressure to give our children as many opportunities to learn and develop as we can, in the belief that this will teach them valuable life skills. It starts from birth with structured baby and toddler classes and phonics and numeracy being taught at nursery. The quest for academic achievement continues on throughout the school years, accompanied by after school clubs, homework clubs, music lessons, sports fixtures, drama clubs and on and on and on.

I have no doubt that each of these activities hold incredible value for children, but maybe picking out one or two at most is enough, for both child and their exhausted parents who are constantly delivering their overwhelmed children to all of these structured activities.

I often observe frazzled parents on a Monday morning telling friends that they had been to gymnastics at 6am on Saturday morning, then a rugby tournament at 12 noon and two birthday parties on Sunday. If this sound familiar to you, I want to tell you something right now and you may feel it’s controversial, but here goes… It’s perfectly okay not to do ALL of these things. Nothing bad will happen, in fact, something good may happen.

Giving our children the time and freedom to play, without interruption develops so many life skills. It supports the development of things such as:

· Independence

· Social skills

· Conflict resolution within themselves and with others

· Problem solving

· Risk taking (Sometimes I can’t watch! Obviously if it’s really dangerous I step in.)

· Creativity – at play we get lost in our own subconscious and this allows for much more creative thinking.

· Learning new skills without pressure

· Narrative and language development

· Musicality

· Physical activity and special awareness

Not only this, but as a parent it gives you some time to do all those bits and pieces that always need doing, or time to just catch your breath and sit down with a hot cup of tea. What a treat! It’s alright you can do that – I’ve written an entire blog post and my son is still totally engrossed in his play.

Of course there is also great value in playing with your child, if they invite you to and I’m not suggesting that you make yourself inaccessible to your children. However, sometimes stepping back and giving each other space to get on with essential tasks, self-care and play is just the right thing to do and I highly recommend it.


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This is a blog post that I originally wrote two years ago for The Do Try This at Home School and . I thought I would share it here too, because play is indeed a powerful thing.

A few weeks ago I went to visit a local primary school after quite a long search for a suitable place for my own children. When I arrived at the school I found the year 5 teacher dancing around the maypole with his whole class to “Don’t stop me now!” He looked like he was having the time of his life, and the children were utterly engaged by his willingness to join in and play. I nearly joined in myself!

As he skipped around he yelled to me “This IS educational, I promise!” And that was when I knew that I’d found the right school for my children. A school that values play and how effective it is as a learning tool.

Play is so greatly undervalued by our society and certainly by policy makers and politicians, and yet play is a vital part of what it is to be human. It is central to learning, to brain development and to creativity. Without play, our learning is significantly poorer.

Think back to your own childhood for a moment, recall some of your happiest times and your most favourite toys. Recall the sounds you made as you played, the texture of that toy in your hand, the smell of your toy and the colour it was. Stay in that memory, that precious piece of time, hold on to it. That is what it feels like to play.

With that thought in your mind, now come back to the present. Has your play in childhood influenced what you have become as an adult? I can say for certain that my play as a child absolutely made me who I am now. I used to play “schools” in the shed. My mother painted the shed for me and turned it into a classroom for my toys. I would spend hours calling the register and writing on my chalk board.

As adults, play is equally important and we often play with ideas in our heads, draw things out, work things through, change things and come up with new ideas via this process. Big creative companies, such as Google, have now recognised how valuable playfulness is and have designed spaces in which their staff can play and create.

Whatever age we are, play is a useful tool. When I am teaching play is central to everything we do.

We play with words, we make puppets, we create stories, we build worlds, we animate, and we play with language, with rhymes and with songs. We play scrabble and countdown, and I have to say I have learned more about spelling, vocabulary and the origins of words from these games than I ever learned from spelling tests.

We play with numbers and shape and construction. We play shops and we bake cakes to learn about fractions and weight and about how nice cake is!

We play with music, we make sounds, we sing, we create, we play with paints and colours and textures.

We go outside and play in nature, climbing trees, running, jumping, dancing, going on bear hunts, looking at bugs, building dens and camping in the woods. Play, especially in nature, really engulfs all of your senses.

We play with friends. We chat, we laugh, we run around and create imaginary worlds with these very special people. Play is absolutely key to friendship, it’s not often that I sit down with a friend to solve a quadratic equation, but it is often than I laugh with my friends, talk to my friends and feel more human with my friends.

I would like to point out here that I currently teach independently, not within the state system, where I am free from many classroom restraints. I’ve also been a home educator for my own children this past year. However, that doesn’t mean that there is no space for play in every classroom, as demonstrated by the maypole dancing teacher.

I’m not suggesting that we spend our entire lives playing at things. Sometimes we have to conform and follow certain rules. For example, I wouldn’t want my surgeon to play at operating on me, and I wouldn’t want my pilot to play at flying the aeroplane.

But I can almost certainly guarantee you that throughout their development there would have been elements of play that led them to where they are in their chosen careers.

We know that play is important, research repeatedly show this, and yet there is less time in our school day for children to just play. Break times are shorter and fewer, children are not allowed to play on the playground before school. Children miss parts of their play time if they don’t keep up with their work or they don’t conform to the expected behaviours in class, and I question the benefit of this.

Play helps us to develop ideas and thoughts without fear of failure. Play allows us to explore. Play informs us. Play helps us to learn ways to interact with others. Play is inclusive.

I know that I am preaching to the already converted. I really feel that the policy makers need to stop and rethink their ideas on what education looks like.

Children NEED to play. It is utterly essential to their development. Every classroom across the country is filled with experts in play, let them use their skills, let them use a medium that is completely familiar and natural. Let them be children.

#play #playtherapy #theplaywelltrust #childhealth #childhood #learningthroughplay #blog #wellness

Photo Credit: Julie Elmes

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