So my friend Ashley over at http://www.bosssanders.com/ and I have been texting back and forth about play activities for some time. I asked her to put together a little FAQ for me to answer and hopefully answer any questions y'all have as well. Now let's get to it:
So, I LOVE LOVE LOVE the activities I've seen you doing with your kids. They look SUPER fun, FUN enough that even *I* want to come over and play...
So far, which activity is YOUR favorite? Hmmmm this is a hard one. I would say play doh is my absolute favorite. It's easy to make for one. The homemade version is waaaayyyy better than store bought. It's softer, squishier, cheaper (you probably have all the items in your house now), and I know what's in it if my 2 year old decides to taste test. Playdoh lends to so many types of play. You can make things, stamp things, squish things in it. I love to play with play doh if I'm being honest. When I make the kids a fresh batch I am usually standing there playing with bits of it myself as well. My favoirte thing to watch them play with is loose parts. Their creative sides really surface when playing with a collective bunch of random materials and I soooo enjoy watching what they come up with (and it's never what I thought they would do).
Which, would you say, are the kids' favorite(s)? The kids love play doh as well and request it often. My youngest asks to paint constantly and the older 2 really love everything. They LOVE water beads but I haven't found the best way to contain them without having my entire floor covered with water beads (the solution is probably playing with them while my 2 year old naps), they also love to play with loose parts. The older 2 generally don't request something specific they'll just ask if I will please set them up an "activity."
Now, be honest, does the mess not drive you bonkers? I get this question ALL the time. Honestly no it doesn't. When I set them up with something I give them a specific area to play in whether it's at the table, the bar, their small play table or the train table, wherever. I usually give them a blanket or something if it's on the floor to keep it on. This allows me to clean it up quickly when it's over. 99 percent of indoor activities are done over our tile floor so the materials can be quickly swept up if some has spilled over. When we paint we wear a smock and I try and contain the mess to a specific area. That being said I don't allow them to play something that can be messy and me go in the back room and read a book (wouldn't that be nice!). I usually am in the same room-ish and keep an eye. Also in regards to the mess kids make a mess whatever they do, in my case I love watching them learn and experiment and explore so it doesn't upset me. NOW.... if they are intentionally making a huge mess and not playing making a mess but just being completely ridiculous I DO NOT like that at all.
What have you learned from this whole "creative play" experiment? I have learned to rage against the TV! Oh my goodness I didn't realize the effect it's been having on my kiddos. When I was growing up we didn't have all of this digital entertainment and we PLAYED. I noticed my kids didn't seem to know HOW to play and I decided I thought it's because they are entertained constantly with zero effort on their part. They don't have to THINK of something to play or IMAGINE they just sit and watch. When I cut the TV and other things super drastically they had to use their brains to play and entertain themselves. It did take some time but now that they have adjusted to not having digital entertainment all the time they are playing, REALLY playing and it makes me so happy.
What do you think your kids have learned? Goodness. I think they have learned as I mentioned above HOW to play. I think they're learning how to use their imagination, how to create, how to think. Some of the play activities are open ended entertainment but some specifically designed to teach. They work on colors, words, fine motor, counting, scooping, math, pouring, measuring and a million other things. I feel like they get something from this type of play and that makes me happy.
Why not just send your kids outside and say, "Go forth and PLAY, children!" Well I do that too. Sometimes we just say GO! That is what kids need too! Sometimes we take our play outside with water, ice, soap or whatever as well. I guess I think of it as I teach kindergarten. I spend all day every day teaching other peoples children, planning activities to help them learn and grow into respectable humans to function appropriately in the world so I need to be doing that at home as well. I also know that this season of my life having small children is so short. I want to enrich their lives as much as possible. Now I know there are many schools of thoughts on why are we trying to make everything magical and just let kids be kids etc. I want to clarify here that I'm not trying to make every second magical, we don't do activities all day every day (thought some days we do more than others). Sometimes we don't even do them daily. My kids are bored, they do watch tv some and roll around in the floor doing nothing. My husband and I say "go play something!!!' as well. I just think that I'm trying to set up small, simple things that I have around the house or can acquire easily to help foster their curiosity and allow them experiences in a fun way. By no means is what I do trying to be pinterest worthy and a mompeditor - we all play with our kids in different ways - this just seems to work for my kids.
How often and for how long do you normally do these activities? I usually do a couple set activities a week. That being said some days when we do activities we may do more than one in a day and we may go days or a week without anything specific being set up. Our life is crazy sometimes and it just depends on how much we are home and what is going on. When the kids get irritable and need something or at times just need to calm down that is sometimes when I bust out something for them to do. I also go in spurts where I'll do more for a while and less for a while. My kids will do an "activity" for different periods of time. My 2 year old will paint for MAYBE 15 min. My 6 year old will paint until the end of time. I have set them up with things that they have played with for no time at all and they just don't love it. More often than not my older 2 will play consistently anywhere from 30 min to an hour sometimes longer depending on the activity and what other things are going on in the house that will divert their attention to something else.
Do you have to watch them vigilantly with hawk-eyes so they don't eat things or re-design your sofa? This depends on what it is. When my 2 year old paints yes I watch her vigilantly! I usually set her up at the bar and I work in the kitchen doing dishes or whatever so I can see her and make sure she doesn't decide to paint the walls! I'm more hawk eyed on her just in general. She tends to put things in her mouth - specifically the colored pasta! What's fun about many of our play materials is they are simple and homemade so though I don't want her eating them they aren't going to hurt her. Anything with small parts when she is involved I watch much more vigilantly. The older 2 are ages 4 and 6 so I can usually set them up with something and explain where to keep the materials and sometimes a few "do not do this" type of thing and theyr'e great and will play and play. (The exception to this would be the water bead debacle of 2014. My older kids LOST THIER MINDS one day and had water beads EVERYWHERE - this may have lead to an angry mom who had to apologize and I may have thrown the water beads in the trash and we haven't done it again). But all things in stride just like anything we do I watch my 2 year old much more vigilantly to make sure she is being safe, not eating things etc. because she is the one who gets into things she isn't supposed to, doesn't ask permission and is just TWO!
Do you think you'll keep doing these activities when school starts back up? Yes. Absolutely. We starting doing these more intentionally in the late winter/early spring this year during school. For me working full time, since I don't stay home it does change the way in which things go. I typically try and think of something ahead of time and set it up when we get home and they play while I get dinner ready. Funny enough I'm actually better at setting up things during the school year because I need them entertained while I cook supper, and I am much more regimented on a schedule than in the summer. Summer I am more child led when they need a break or ask for something I'll set it up and decide just whenever unless I have seen something I specifically want to try with them. In the summer we spend so much time outside, at the pool, etc. that activities are hit or miss so far but I do still try and do a few per week and this summer I've put together a portable activity kit for when we go to late night grill outs with friends and I worry about keeping them entertained at someone else's house etc.
What is your biggest piece of advice for any parent just starting out with sensory play? My biggest piece of advice is to just do it. The dollar tree is your friend. It doesn't cost a fortune. Get some rice, some pasta, and make yourself some play doh and you're ready to roll. My youngest was gifted a water table for her birthday that we frequently use but you don't have to have something like that. Under the bed bins work great for containing things as well as big plastic mixing bowls and things like that. Keep the play contained with a table or a blanket or both and just go for it. So that's lots of advice but by all means do what YOU are comfortable with! One of my friends cannot stand glitter so in her case I wouldn't advise her to give her kids a bottle of glue and glitter and let em go because that's going to lead to her being frustrated. If you hate huge messes avoid things like cloud dough and finger paints - the things that are harder to clean up. A counter top with a stool or a kids plastic placemat go a long way to contain things and clorox wipes erase a multitude of messes. Start small and stay where you are comfortable and don't feel that you have to have a specific expectation. Things are not always Pinterest pretty and kids aren't always happy. They don't always love activities and stay engaged for long periods of time. Sometimes things flop and that's okay. Let yourself off the hook.