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Breakfast. Check. Son’s Math. Check. Respond to emails. Check. Help daughter with Reading assignment… Lunch… Complete project for work… Dinner. Check. Check. Check. Check. Whew. This was a good day. We got it all done!

Hold on! Wait a minute! You’re missing something. In fact, if you keep up this schedule, the morale in your home is going to drop, the productivity is going to drop and the opportunity before you will be missed. How do I know you’re missing something?

You’re missing something BIG! You’re missing out on an opportunity to increase your kids’ academic, social and emotional skills, their ability to deal with stressful situations and anxiety. You’re missing out on an opportunity to learn about your kids or your spouse, develop deeper connections and create lasting memories. Still don’t know what you’re missing?

SCHEDULED PLAYTIME. Yes. That’s the thing. SCHEDULED PLAYTIME.

Unfortunately, you may also be missing out on a way to make your life easier while you’re home with the family for the foreseeable future. Who doesn’t want that?

This is a MUST. We can’t leave play to chance and hope someone says something funny while we eat lunch or while they’re working on Math. We can’t just hope that the adventurous person in the family brings some excitement. And we sure can’t minimize its importance. 

We must add play to our checklist. Why?

  1. Let’s start with all the reasons I mentioned earlier. No need to rehash those.
  2. Brings positive energy, creating a more conducive environment for the work that follows.
  3. We’re a family. We do life together. We laugh together. We cry together. We play together. We feel each other’s stress and we feel each other’s joy. (I can feel it in my home when someone is really stressed out about something.)
  4. When we play and laugh, our brain releases dopamine, a chemical that lets us know that we like what we’re doing. We connect that joy and pleasure with the people we are doing it with, making us want to repeat it. 
  5. We’re living in stressful times. Laughter truly is the best medicine. 
  6. Play strengthens our relationships.
  7. Strengthens children’s academic skills. (I know I said it earlier, but it’s worth mentioning again.)

I get it. You’re the adult. You have to be the responsible one to make sure that everyone gets all their work done. That everything stays orderly and structured. And if we get everything completed, then we’ll play. Because play is the reward for finishing everything, right? Besides, how will it look if it’s 10:30 AM and we’re playing a game and they haven’t read their English homework yet or you haven’t quite finished that project? You don’t want to be that parent.

Think of the other side of being the responsible parent. The responsible parent who helps to increase their child’s ability to achieve academically and improve communication skills. The parent who builds their kid’s confidence and their immune system. The parent who’s reducing the stress level in the home and creating a positive, energetic homework environment. That’s what you’re doing when you schedule time to play. You’re scheduling all those benefits, which might make it a little easier to get through each day.

There are tons of lists of ways to play. Keep it simple. It can be just a few minutes as a study/work break or a designated 30 or 45 minute recess. Whatever you do, don’t not schedule time to play while you’re home. One could say, you’re not being responsible.

Ideas for Play at Home:

  • Ball up some paper, get a trash can and start close, seeing who can make the shot. Keep inching your way back. Add some flair. Celebrate creativity in shooting styles whether you make it or not.
  • Turn on an upbeat song and dance. Use a hat and whoever is wearing the hat, dances for about 20-30 seconds and then puts the hat onto someone else who then begins to dance. Profusely cheer on the person dancing with the hat on.
  • Draw designs on the driveway using sidewalk chalk.
  • Do impersonations of one another, other people in your life, or famous people.
  • Build a fort in the house using couch cushions, pillows, and bedsheets. Then let someone do their school/job work inside the fort.
  • Start making up a story. Speak for 30 seconds and then have the next person pick up the story from there for 30 seconds and then someone else for 30 seconds and keep going around as long as you can. The story may become outlandish, but who cares? 

Look at all the smiles, laughter, and imagination taking place. Check. Check. Check.

The rain let up and the sun peeked through the clouds in the early afternoon on Day 2 of Social Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Already a little stir crazy in the house, I directed my 4-year-old, Jackie and 2-year-old, Maddie to get socks and their rain boots on. We headed outside to our driveway, where a couple of fresh puddles lay, just waiting for eager feet to jump in them. 

Jackie looked back at me with an inquisitive look in her eyes. “Is this ok?” she silently sought permission. I smiled and nodded with an emphatic, “Go for it!”

She timidly stepped in the puddle, while Maddie watched, waiting for her big sister’s verdict. A little jump. A smile. A bigger jump. A laugh. Soon, both of my girls were jumping and splashing and kicking up muddy water all over their clothes. I stood back, watching them bask in the joy of a carefree childhood activity. 

We needed this. I needed this. With the stress of a global pandemic, trying to work from home while parenting two kids under 5 as my husband delivered essentials to businesses and hospitals as a FedEx driver, I needed a distraction. Some sort of stress relief. And this was it. A little break from the juggling act I was attempting to do between projects and snack times, diaper changes and refereeing sibling quarrels. The excitement and simple pleasure of getting dirty outside were exactly what we all needed. 

The significance of jumping in muddy puddles dawned on me, as I really stopped to savor the moment. I had NEVER let my girls jump in puddles before. I rarely even let them get dirty. It’s not that I’m a clean freak, there’s just never enough time. There’s always something to do, somewhere to go, a nap to be had, a meal to prepare and eat, a bedtime routine to stick to. 

In the hustle and bustle of life, I had unknowingly been robbing my kids of an essential childhood need: to play outside, explore, get dirty, discover and learn. 

As the stress and anxiety of our new (temporary) social distancing norm was threatening to hit hard, getting outside to play provided much-needed benefits for both myself and my kids. Not only did my kids get exercise from all that jumping and running, but they were also soaking up that vitamin D that strengthens their bones and keeps them healthy! Being outside improved all of our moods and gave us a much-needed break from the stuffy indoor tension that was building. 

And just like that, my perspective on our situation shifted. I could view quarantine as an inconvenient nightmare OR I could see it as an opportunity: to slow down and appreciate the little things in life, to let my kids be kids, to minimize the stress of social-distancing by taking the time to enjoy the moments of uninterrupted play.

Oh, Valentine’s Day – the one day a year it’s okay to wear pink and red together, tell total strangers you love them, and spend way too much money on chocolate.

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Do you remember those lively dodgeball games during recess? What about freeze tag, kickball, Four Square or climbing on the jungle gym? Many parents today likely have great memories of running around outdoors during school recess. And, chances are pretty good that once you got home from school, you played outside after finishing your homework. However, that is not the case for many children, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is concerned about the impact that lack of play is having on children.

The AAP states that the most powerful way children learn isn’t only in the classroom or libraries, but rather on playgrounds and in playrooms. The importance of playful learning for children cannot be overemphasized.

Experts define play as an activity that is fun and engaging, which could define a number of activities. But the difference in play and other activities is that play has no set outcome, no score to achieve and nothing to produce. It’s just good, old-fashioned fun.

“We’re recommending that doctors write a prescription for play, because it’s so important,” says pediatrician Michael Yogman, M.D., lead author of the AAP report. “Play with parents and peers is fundamentally important for developing a suite of 21st century skills, including social, emotional, language and cognitive skills, all needed by the next generation in an economically competitive world that requires collaboration and innovation. The benefits of play cannot really be overstated in terms of mitigating stress, improving academic skills and helping to build the safe, stable and nurturing relationships that buffer against toxic stress and build social-emotional resilience.”

Research indicates that family playtime enhances communication and tends to create a positive environment. Another benefit of letting the child direct the playtime is that it can help parents learn their child’s areas of interest.

Through the years, children’s playtime has been threatened, especially as schools have removed recess from the schedule in an effort to focus more on academics. A national survey of 8,950 preschool children and parents found that only 51 percent of children walked or played outside once a day with a parent. Additionally, surveys have found that as many as 94 percent of parents have safety concerns about outdoor play.

No one will be surprised to know that technology also impacts play. According to media research, the average preschooler watches 4.5 hours of television a day, which is associated with greater risks of obesity. If you factor in the time that kids of all ages spend on their personal devices, and it’s easy to see that playing outdoors has been replaced with screen time.  And, it’s not just preschoolers who are living a sedentary lifestyle.

“Media use such as television, video games, smartphone and tablet apps are increasingly distracting children from play. It’s concerning when immersion in electronic media takes away time for real play, either outdoors or indoors,” says pediatrician Jeffrey Hutchinson, M.D., a co-author of the report.

The report encourages educators, pediatricians and families to advocate for and protect unstructured play and playful learning in preschools and schools because of the numerous benefits it offers in all areas of life and development.

If play isn’t something that comes naturally to you, here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Have a water fight with buckets, squirt guns and the hose.
  • Build a fort in your back yard or with the furniture and sheets in your family room.
  • Blow bubbles.
  • Visit a children’s museum.
  • Make chalk drawings on the sidewalk.
  • Rake the leaves into big piles and jump in them.
  • Go for a walk in the rain and stomp in the mud puddles.
  • Play with Play-Doh.
  • Build something out of Legos.

“The next time your child wants to play with you, say yes. It’s one of the best parts of being a parent, and one of the best things you can do for your child,” Dr. Yogman says. “Play helps children learn language, math and social skills, and lowers stress. Play is important both for children and their parents since sharing joyful moments together during play can only enhance their relationship.”

The little girl was playing in the playground area of a fast food restaurant, yelling at her mom, “Watch me, Mama! Watch me!” Consumed by her cell phone, her mom did not hear her daughter calling to her. The child came down the slide, went over to her mom and started tugging on her arm, saying, “Mommy, Mommy, watch me.” At this point the mother looked at her daughter, seemingly irritated at the interruption, and said, “What?”

Perhaps you’ve been that mom at one point or another, and chances are good you’ve witnessed that mom. For some, that moment when a child is occupied on the safe playground is the opportunity to take a little break. For others, constant distractions keep parents from engaging with their kids.

Dr. Jenny Radesky is a fellow in developmental behavioral pediatrics at Boston Medical Center. She and a team of researchers observed 55 caregivers, usually a parent, eating and interacting with one or more children, from infants to 10-year-olds, in fast-food restaurants. 

Out of 55 caregivers, 40 were involved with their phones during the meal. Sixteen of these adults used the mobile device throughout the meal. The researchers referred to this as “absorption with the mobile device.”

Three adults gave a device to a child to keep them occupied. One adult with a little girl picked up her phone as soon as she sat down, and she used it throughout the entire meal.

“The girl keeps eating, then gets up to cross the room to get more ketchup. Caregiver is not watching her do this; she is looking down at the phone…,” the notes showed. “Still no conversation… Now girl’s head appears to be looking right at caregiver, and caregiver looks up but not at girl…”

How much screen time is too much screen time when it comes to being an engaged parent? Perhaps the better question is, are you frequently distracted by your phone or some other device when your child is trying to get your attention? If you aren’t sure, The Gottman Institute encourages you to consider these questions:

  • When was the last time you played with your child or teenager?
  • What was the last conversation you shared as a family?
  • Ask your kids if they feel you are distracted. Honesty can go a long way in opening up communication. Just avoid responding defensively and ask more about what they need from you.
  • Think about the last conversation you had with an adult. Were they on their phone? Did you make eye contact? Did you feel heard?
  • What makes you feel heard? The same things that make you feel heard probably apply to the children and teens in your life. Have an open conversation about what listening looks like in different settings.

Many young people complain that their parents nag at them for always being on their phone, yet they believe their parents are as consumed by technology as they are. Perhaps one of the most important things for parents to remember is that children are very good at copying the behavior that parents model for them. 

Technology isn’t going away. When parents decide to put down the cell phone, turn off the game, and walk away from the emails on the computer to focus on their children, it sends a significant message: You matter. You are more important than the screen. I value you. 

Face-to-face relationships beat technology any day of the week.

When was the last time you and your mate played together? Seriously… can you remember the last time you did something crazy fun together?

In far too many marriages, couples throw play out the window and replace it with serious adult responsibilities like careers, raising children, taking care of elderly parents, household chores and community commitments.

The University of Denver’s Center for Marital and Family Studies research finds that the amount of fun couples have together is the strongest factor in understanding overall marital happiness.

The more you invest in fun, friendship and being there for your partner, the happier the relationship will be over time. The correlation between fun and marital happiness is high and significant.

TAKE THE CHALLENGE!

For the next four weeks, intentionally set aside time every other day to do something fun together. It doesn’t have to be something that will take hours; it could be a 30-minute activity. Watching television together or sitting next to each other while online does not count as play.

In an informal survey, couples say they do these things:

  • Play games like Scrabble, Dominoes, Rook, Wii, Uno, Quiddler, Frisbee or Catchphrase.
  • Take a walk or run together.
  • Play a practical joke on each other.
  • Cook together, try new recipes and enjoy a great meal together.
  • List activities for each letter of the alphabet that cost less than $10, then work your way through the list.
  • Work a jigsaw puzzle.
  • Do an activity together like horseback riding, bowling, fishing or canoeing.

Play isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. So don’t just sit around reminiscing about how playful and adventurous you used to be or lamenting the fact that you never do anything fun anymore. Take the challenge and remember – playful people are a lot of fun to be around!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

A young girl was touring the social worker through the home she shared with her father. When she came to her bedroom, she proudly showed the woman everything in her room. With big eyes and a huge smile, the little girl asked, “Would you like to see bombs away?”

Hesitantly, the social worker said yes. “Come on Dad, let’s show her,” said the little girl.

Dad came over to the bed, grabbed his daughter’s arms and legs and started swinging her. Finally, he let go as she yelled, “Bombs away!” and landed on her bed. Loud, gleeful laughter followed.

Looking horrified, the social worker said, “Stop! No! You should not be doing that.” Both father and daughter looked at her with troubled and quizzical faces and said, “We shouldn’t be doing bombs away?”

“This is probably one of the best examples of the difference in how men and women view play with children,” said Dr. Ron Klinger, founder of the Center for Successful Fathering and author of The Common Sense No-Frills, Plain-English Guide to Being a Successful Dad.

“Researchers tell us that children of all ages from infants to high school prefer play with dad over mom because it is unpredictable, physical, rough, dad cheats, and it’s fun. It is a test – it stretches you. You find yourself doing things you would never do. Most importantly, it is a playful form or preparation for the challenges our children will face in the real world.”

Klinger contends that what the father was doing with his daughter was totally appropriate. While mothers are the initial primary caregivers and continue to be the nurturers and protectors, it is the father’s job to engage his children in rough and tumble play and to encourage them to take risks.

However, the challenge for many is that nearly 80 percent of dads today did not grow up with an actively involved father in their lives. When moms say, “Don’t play so rough,” most guys don’t know to say, “But this is what I am supposed to be doing.”

“The bonding with a child and their father is based on this rough and tumble play,” Klinger said. “This playful interaction turns out to be very powerful in teaching independence, self-reliance and courage. It also encourages children to become more tolerant of frustration. The father is introducing the child to a world that is defined by adventure and adversity, not comfort.”

There are other benefits of rough and tumble play for children, too. They include:

  • Building a bond of affection and trust with their father;
  • Exposure to personal challenges such as riding a bike;
  • Learning to be a successful risk-taker;
  • Building self-confidence;
  • Girls growing up to be unintimidated by competitive men; and
  • Becoming resilient.

“When a mother approaches her child, the infant’s heart rate begins to slow down,” Klinger said. “When a father approaches his child, their heart rate begins to race in anticipation of excitement and action. Babies need this to stimulate brain activity.

“I can remember when my own son would climb our spiral staircase and leap out to me below. The space separating us was only a couple of feet, but he was jumping from seven feet high. He was investing a huge amount of trust in me. Admittedly, this is the kind of thing that drives mom nuts, yet it’s exactly what dads and children should be doing. Play is the antidote for anxiety.”

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

There are plenty of parents doing the happy dance as they whisk their children back to school after the holidays. Moms or dads whose children stay with them all the time may be wringing their hands at this point though, trying to creatively keep their kids occupied and not begging to play games on electronic devices. 

Depending on the age of your children, inside activities may be the order of the day when it’s cold outside. To help you stay sane and create some really fun memories, here are some ideas from other parents you might want to try.

One mom presented her kids with a challenge. She gave them jello packets with sweetened, colored gelatin and let them add anything else they needed to make sparkly, fizzing explosions. They knew the jello powder wouldn’t react explosively with anything, so they added baking soda and sparkles. They also knew that vinegar or lemon juice reacts with baking soda, making their concoction bubble to the top getting the eruption/explosion they wanted. As a result, they decided to mix all their dry ingredients together first and then add the vinegar or lemon juice for a better effect.

Sometimes when it’s cold outside it’s fun to pretend it’s not. Crank up the heat a little, put on some shorts and let your kids make homemade no-churn Cookie Monster Ice Cream. Not sure how to do that? Here’s what you’ll need: 

2 cups heavy cream

14 ounces sweetened condensed milk

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon blue food coloring

20 Oreos or something similar, and 

15 chocolate chip cookies. 

Put 15 Oreos and 10 chocolate chip cookies in a plastic bag and break them into chunks. Set aside. Whip heavy cream, food coloring and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Beat in condensed milk until color is uniform. Add additional food coloring if needed. Fold in broken cookies and transfer to loaf pan. Break up all remaining cookies and use to decorate top of pan. Place in freezer for at least 5 hours and then enjoy! 

Recreating recipes are great activities to practice counting, naming colors, measuring specific amounts and talking about the difference in the way we measure liquid and dry ingredients – all in the midst of doing something fun.

Present your children with some random things you have around the house such as a box (shoebox, shipping box, shirt boxes, etc), unused paint stir sticks, newspaper, tape, popsicle sticks, paper plates, paper cups, pipe cleaners, tissue paper and whatever else you can find; then challenge them to create something.  

Still need more ideas? Break out the playdough or board/card games. Build a fort inside the house or have a contest doing something fun like dancing, singing or cooking. Think of some things you enjoyed or wanted to do as a kid and recreate the experience for your kids. Ask other parents what they do or plan a craft you’ve been wanting to try but haven’t yet. You might even do a quick online search for fresh ideas or inside activities using items you already have in your home. 

If you’ve ever seen a child spend hours playing with a box, you know just how creative they can be. Imagine what kids can do with just a little direction here and there. Some kids will jump right in to a new activity while others balk at leaving electronics behind. But chances are, whatever you plan for them will satisfy and stimulate them way more than staring at a screen ever will. Plus, they’ll remember it longer, too.

Imagine walking down the street and hearing laughter and hollering coming from around the corner. Assuming it is a group of children, you turn the corner and see blindfolded adults being led around by other adults. Balls fly through the air as the blindfolded people attempt to tag other blindfolded people. In the midst of it all you see that these people are clearly having fun.

Most parents know about the importance of play for their children, but what about the importance of play for grown-ups?

The National Institute for Play (NIP) believes that play can dramatically transform our personal health, our relationships, the education we provide our children and the capacity of our corporations to innovate.

Perhaps you have heard the saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” There is probably more truth to the saying than most realize. Research indicates that without play, it is hard to give your best at work or at home.

What do you do on a regular basis for fun? When did you last go down a slide, play hide and go seek or join a good game of wiffle ball? Many adults have the mindset that they are too old to be playful. There is actually strong evidence that this could not be further from the truth. Play may be the very thing that keeps you young and healthier. In fact, studies show that a life lived without play is at increased risk for stress-related diseases, mental health issues, addiction and interpersonal violence.

Are there more benefits?

  • According to the NIP, play is the gateway to vitality. By its nature, it is uniquely and intrinsically rewarding.

  • Play generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun and leads to mastery. Additionally, it gives the immune system a bounce, fosters empathy and promotes a sense of belonging and community. Each of these byproducts are indices of personal health, and their shortage predicts impending health problems and personal fragility.

  • It also enhances relationships. The NIP cites studies that indicate that play refreshes a long-term adult-adult relationship.

  • Some of the hallmarks of its refreshing, oxygenating action are: humor, the enjoyment of novelty and the capacity to share a lighthearted sense of the world’s ironies. Other hallmarks are the enjoyment of mutual storytelling and the capacity to openly divulge imagination and fantasies.

  • Playful communications and interactions, when nourished, produce a climate for easy connection and a deepening, more rewarding relationship – true intimacy. Who wouldn’t want this in a relationship?

Believe it or not, the blindfolded adults were actually working. This playfulness was part of a work activity. When finished, almost without exception, each person commented on how good it felt to play and how energized they felt. When they began to actually work on a project, many said they could feel high energy levels in the room.

Just as children need play to help them de-stress, play can help adults be at their best when it comes to career, parenting and marriage. Instead of looking at play as a waste of precious time, consider it a great investment in well-being.