How Child-Centred Play Saved the Day!
Miss 7 was devastated. She loved nothing more than to do her extras assignments with Daddy, and Thursday afternoon was all planned out.
She had even chosen a topic that had been dear to his heart at the same age – dinosaurs!
Back then, as he had narrated many a time to a spellbound young girl thirsty for knowledge, he loved dinosaurs so much he had wanted to become an archaeologist. His sister even wanted to be a ‘digger lady’ to help him uncover the treasures buried by the sands of time.
Dinosaurs were it. Huge and ferocious, old and mysterious, and some a little dopey (like the Stegosaurus, or modern-day ‘Brother-o-saurus’). Daddy’s pipe cleaner versions of skeletons of ancient monsters such as Triceratops and T-Rex were famous (within the household, alas …), and they were sure to bring gasps of wonder from the assembled throng of Year Twos.
That was until Daddy was called upon unexpectedly to rescue Mr 9’s cricket practice – cricket practice! – from the work commitments that had enveloped other fathers like the tentacles of a corporate squid.
Daddy wouldn’t be able to fulfil his promise that day, and no explanation of the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few was going to cut it. Nor was the idea that we still had the weekend. Kids live in the now, and this was NOW!
As Daddy trudged off with a heavy heart, Mrs Chopped Liver (me) had some thinking to do. I knew that the art of distraction was a time honoured technique that was almost guaranteed results, but sometimes the transformation of a child’s mind from heart-set plans to a new activity wasn’t complete without a little more mental manouvering. Anything less than full focus on my part was fraught with danger, and I wanted to avoid Miss 7-osaurus turning the house into Jurassic Park.
And that’s when inspiration hit.
Spending time with the kids has been my developing mantra for next year, but starting now. However, while quality time and complete focus is one aspect of this (and rich with double-sided rewards), I remembered another technique we had used in the past, which worked beautifully, but which, as all parents know, can get blindsided by life’s demands like any good intention.
Child-centred play is a step up again from a parent giving their child full and undivided attention. The idea is not to ‘instruct’ the child, but to have them direct the play (or activity) completely for periods of 10-30 minutes.
This is harder than it sounds, because there are times when you either don’t feel like partaking in a particular activity, but have to run with it (watching my husband play along with craft-based play is a comedy all of its own). Even more difficult is catching your ‘helpful suggestions’ before they escape from your lips. Zip it! They’re running the show.
While my episode was an impromptu one, the best way to engage in child-directed play is to set a time for it, daily or otherwise. It can be surprisingly difficult to slot in regularly, but just watch them naturally fit into a timetable and crave it! In this way, you are giving your child positive and good-quality attention when you are able, making them less likely to demand it when you can’t.
It’s about stimulating the child’s creativity, sense of autonomy, leadership and teamwork all fused into one. The boost to their self-belief and esteem are quite striking, and who doesn’t want to see their child thinking confidently for themselves, making and rationalising decisions and even calculating the pros and cons of them?
Pretty soon we found ourselves making Orange Poppy Seed Cake, with Miss 7 driving the bus – collecting ingredients, measuring, calculating portions, pouring and stirring (with me adding advice only when asked, and only in a way that made her come up with the answer herself).
The result was a delicious cake that the whole family loved, and which also gave me breathing space for little-lunch snacks for school.
Child-centred play is a positive and rewarding relationship experience for both parents and children, generates a natural warmth and affection, and makes them feel ultra-special. And they kind of are, aren’t they?