I was working with some elementary aged children recently, helping them with their Mother’s Day/ Father’s Day writing assignments. They were all following the same skeleton for their poetry, using personal details to fill in the blank spaces.
One line seemed to snag several of these little authors.
“I love when you play__________________.”
“What does your mom/dad like to play with you?” I would prompt them.
I was surprised at how frequently the question was met with a puzzled look.
“My mom/dad doesn’t play with me,” they’d reply, almost confused.
Now, let me stop here for a moment, to point out that young kids perceive things differently. I know from experience that kids will claim you never asked them to put on their shoes, when in fact you’ve done so three times in the last 5 minutes. But it got me thinking nonetheless.
My first thought: How sad. Their parents don’t play with them. My next thought: Do my kids think I play with them?
Play is an important part of childhood. But it’s also an important part of life and of relationships. It can cut the tension and repair strained connections. Consider all the car seat battles, grocery store meltdowns, and, of course, the nagging “please put on your shoes” reminder on repeat each morning. If this was all parenting consisted of we could expect ragged and weary relationships.
But as we reconnect and repair through positive experiences like play, we give a healthy landscape for the typical challenges of the parent-child relationship.
I know these things.
But sometimes in the day-in-day-out pace of life, we need the gentle reminder to slow down and be intentional in our connections.
As I sat with my knees awkwardly tucked into a small desk in an elementary school, these young kids brought that reminder to me: Be more intentional about playing with your kids.
Just as couples are advised to be intentional about planning time for dates together, it helps when we parents intentionally schedule time together with our kids.
That thought may seem strange at first — it’s hard to feel like you need to plan more time with your kids when all you really want to do is go to the bathroom by yourself. But much of our time with our kids is spent in the daily grind. The dressing, the driving, the three square meals and the goldfish crackers in between. And while there are plenty of moments for intentional connection in each of those daily activities, every now and then it’s helpful to set aside time for a special date.
A playdate perhaps.
If you’re looking to bring more fun and intentional connection into your relationship with your child, here are a few playdates you might want to consider. (Contains affiliate links and sponsored content, though all views are my own.)
This post is brought to you by a great new company called Avery & Austin. These folks have put together playdate boxes with ample materials for activities for two children to enjoy together. It takes all the work out of planning and gathering materials, and gives you a box-o-fun ready to go whenever you need it.
I happen to have boxes and boxes of supplies for kids’ art and craft projects (yes, both) in my home. In fact, if you asked my husband, who has had to move them several times over the past year, I probably have more than I need. (Teaching preschool can do that to you.) But for many people the task of finding and purchasing all the products it takes to do one project — and then storing all the leftovers — can be daunting and overwhelming. Avery & Austin take care of all of that, wrapping everything you need into one tidy little box.
Along with the project supplies, the Avery & Austin boxes contain a healthy snack and a little grown-up gift for the host. You’re ready to just grab and go.
While the initial design of the Avery & Austin playdate box is intended for children enjoying a playdate together, I thought it was the perfect set up for a one-on-one date for kids to enjoy with parents or grandparents– and the reason why makes up my first playdate suggestion.
Share a Surprise
Setting aside one-on-one time can be easy to put off and put off until you slowly realize it’s been forever since you’ve had a playdate. Signing up for a quality subscription box like Avery & Austin serves as a monthly reminder in your mailbox that it’s time for a playdate.
Kids love getting things in the mail, and they love time with you. As a bonus for busy parents, the box comes complete with everything you need for your activity, so you can focus on just being present with your child and discovering the project together.
I recently pulled our box out after another long Saturday of chores and too much screen time. It didn’t take much enticing to get my kids to step away from the screens and step outside to explore a new project together. And instead of adding more tasks to my to-do list (find activity, gather supplies, grab a snack, etc.) and adding more reasons to procrastinate and postpone, I was able to just jump on the moment, shift gears on our day, and enjoy some play time right along with them.
When you ask someone what they like to play, games are often one of the first categories they think of. My kindergartner loves a good one-on-one game of Uno, especially with a grown up. Maybe that’s because he enjoys doling out a demoralizing defeat. I used to “let him win” now and then, but now he straight up beats me more times than not. It’s a fun time to connect and play — no nagging, no reminders, just playing, talking, and a good dose of silliness. (For our little loves with little hands, these card holders have been fantastic.)
Having a playdate can be a simple as pulling out your favorite card game or board game, but it can even be less formal than that. A good game of tickle chase or a friendly race in the back yard can create the same playful connection.
Head outside and have an adventure! Go for a hike, head to the park, or just hit the back yard. When you’re in open spaces play seems to naturally follow. Plus the fresh air, natural landscape, and physical movement is a refresher for the mind and soul, putting you both in a better mood!
Just keep in mind the real purpose of your adventure and let your kids take the lead, as my friend Zina at Let’s Lasso the Moon explains so perfectly here.
Outdoors is also where I find my favorite art studio. All of the fun without worrying about messes. We dove into our Avery & Austin box in our backyard so that we could all let loose with the paints — even the little guy — and the only thing we needed for clean up was a bubble bath.
Let Them Be the Teacher
Kids spend so much time on the receiving end of instructions, it’s fun and empowering for them to get to be the teacher. Plan a playdate around your child’s strengths and let him/her show you the ropes.
That phrase turned out to be literal for me recently as I went on a playdate with one of my sons to the climbing wall where he’d been practicing for months. With a decade or so of rust on me, I hopped into that harness (OK, I awkwardly wiggled into it like everybody else) and asked my son for all of his best tips. His face beamed as he confidently told me what I needed to know.
Find something your child loves doing and ask him/her to help you learn how to do it too. If your child is taking swim lessons, ask her to coach you through some laps. If he’s playing baseball, go to the batting cages and ask for some pointers. If she’s your resident artist, set up some paints and ask her to share her techniques. It’s a fun playdate as well as a great boost to their self-confidence.
Work on a Project Together
Build a model, decorate a cake, build a tree house, or put together a puzzle. Working together to create something not only builds a sense of connection and accomplishment, but kids (particularly boys) are more likely to engage in deeper level conversations when they are also working on a task and not forced to make eye contact.
On a recent one-on-one date with my second-grader he asked if we could construct a LEGO set together. He didn’t really need my help — he’s much better at building these things than I’ll ever be — but he wanted me there, just the two of us. So he gave me the job of official piece finder and I lined up the parts as he snapped them together, chatting all the while.
Working on the projects in the Avery & Austin boxes is another way to put your child in an expert role. Because these aren’t “your” projects or “their” projects, it’s a perfect opportunity to open up the box with your child, look things over, and then say, “What do you think we should try first?” “How do you think we should do this part?” Working together on a project is a great way to model important problem-solving skills while also building your relationship.
What’s your idea of a #PerfectPlaydate with your kids?
Whatever version of play works best in your family, let’s make a more intentional effort to grab some time, grab our kids, and spend some time playing together!
***You can enter to win a 3 month playdate box subscription to Avery & Austin (valued at approximately $100 per winner) by entering their Rafflecopter giveaway (giveaway ends June 12, 2015). You can also check out their products here.