If you are a parent of a preschooler, you know that the number one thing on their to-do list every single day is to PLAY WITH YOU.
As adults, we don’t have the freedom to play all day. Even the stay-at-home parent has to set aside a large portion of the day for taking care of all the things that make a home livable–cooking, cleaning, hiding in the bathroom for a moment of peaceful quiet while everything falls apart around you… You know, the basics of life.
And, let’s admit it, we don’t really enjoy playing with cars and trucks or My Little Ponies for more than five minutes. Our brains have learned all of the necessary skills that come from pretend play and they become bored very quickly.
But, our preschoolers’ brains live for play. It is so essential for their development, especially when they get to interact with another person who can help them learn from play. They need those precious moments of your attention every.single.day.
So, how can we fill their so-called “buckets” each day with their parents’ undivided attention in a way that’s fun for everyone?
Let’s start with first accepting the fact that you will need to play. It doesn’t have to be pushing a toy school bus around the dining room table on your hands and knees but you do need to put the phone away and remember that your child’s needs are simple and they tell you them all the time: “play with me.”
And playing is fun. Think of it like meditation. Every time a thought comes into your head with the urgency of I need to be doing this right now instead of playing, just let it brush against your consciousness like a feather and log it on your mental to-do list (or even keep a notebook nearby to jot it down quickly). Relax and have fun.
What do you enjoy doing with your kids? Dancing? Singing? Being outside? Telling funny stories? I find that the more creative the activity, the more entertaining it is for both of us. Personally, I’ve been feeling rather guilty about my lack of energy when it comes to playing with my preschooler so I’ve been actively searching for ideas to keep in my back pocket. Some of our favorites are compiled here.
- Set up a Really Simple Science Experiments. There are a ton of science experiments for little kids on the internet but one of our favorites is the DIY lava lamp. The results are always rewarding and I can usually get it started and play with my kid for a bit and then drift away to finish another task in the background.
- Do a Scavenger Hunt. We like this nature scavenger hunt that we can do in our yard but you can find ones for indoors, holidays, road trips, or even for events like birthdays. I printed off two copies of the printable so we each have a copy and laminated them so we can use them again and again.
- Have a Dance Party. And, it doesn’t have to be kids music. My son loves the song “Roam” by the B-52s more than anything from a Disney movie. Play your favorite music as long as it’s kid-friendly and dance around the kitchen or living room for 10 or 15 minutes. Your kid will think it’s amazing AND that you are a good dancer.
- Do a Simple Craft. Ok, this one might take a bit longer, but if you have the supplies on hand ahead of time it can be pretty quick. One idea is to make a mobile with a clothes hanger and whatever objects you have (old toys, photos, colored cotton balls, LEGOs, etc.). There are some elaborate DIY tutorials for creating fancy mobiles, but sometimes simpler really is better.
- Make Slo-Mo Videos on a Smartphone or Tablet. One of my kid’s favorite things to do is build towers with blocks, LEGOs, cardboard, etc. and then knock them down with a monster truck. Recording it in slo-mo and then replaying it makes it even more exciting. You can do slo-mo videos of just about anything: dancing, running, destroying things…get creative!
- Play a Listening Game. Games with instructions that require listening are engaging and important for preschoolers’ development. An easy one that everyone remembers is Simon Says. Remember, if Simon doesn’t say it, don’t do it!
- Make a Story-telling Notebook. We have a wonderful book called Unplugged Play: Screen-free Ideas for Creative Fun (the preschool edition) by Bobbi Connor. There are TONS of ideas in this book but an especially fun one is the story-telling notebook. You simply take a ruled notebook and decorate the front with your child’s photo, stickers, drawings, etc. Once a week, you have your child tell a story and you can write it down word for word. There are no rules for what the story can be about and going back to re-read old stories is especially fun.
- Play Pat-a-Cake. Clapping games are great for teaching rhythm, coordination, and vocabulary, as well as other social and developmental benefits. Pat-a-cake is one that most people know, but there are a lot of others out there!
- Pretend to be Animals. Have your kid pick a favorite animal and then ask them how we are supposed to move. Do we slither, jump, or run? What are we eating? Where to do we live? Do we have animal friends? Animals aren’t your kid’s thing? What about dinosaurs? Construction trucks? Disney characters?
- Read, read, read! One of my absolute favorite things to do with my kid is to read, whether it’s a book or one of his magazines. We love National Geographic for Little Kids and Highlight’s High Five magazines. Books are so important for learning new concepts, cultures, and ideas, plus they teach kids new vocabulary. Looking for a new book to try out? I’d recommend The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds or Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.
It’s likely that once you have to stop playing with your kid, they will beg you to keep playing. This is always the hard part but remind them that you had a really fun time with them and you can’t wait until you get to play again. Tell them that adults have to do adult things sometimes and even though it might not seem fair to them, they are still the most important part of your day.