Parents, right off the bat, let me say that there is no right way to be feeling about the current situation. Relief, anxiety, excitement, dread are all normal. We’re all figuring this out as we go along and doing the best we can. Virtual high-five!
This is not a homeschooling post per se. This is about the importance of play as learning, and letting our kids play to restore some balance we don’t always manage in our typical over-scheduled lives.
Here’s the good news if you’re stressed about making sure your kids are still learning why they are at home: they are. I recently attended a workshop with a local homeschool coordinator. The biggest thing I took away was a reminder that all play is learning.
Why Kids Need to Play
Play is how kids learn about the world. Theoretical and Applied Playworker Bob Hughes (awesome title!) lists 16 different types of play that are central to physical, mental, emotional, and social development. By manipulating objects and trying things out (“I wonder what will happen if I give the dog a haircut?”), using their imaginations to role play different scenarios, and moving and challenging their bodies, kids play to learn:
How their bodies work
Laws of physics
Laws of nature
How to interact with other people, and the consequences of breaking social norms
How to follow rules, and the consequences of breaking those, too
Play builds neural connections and motor skills. Through play, kids get to act out adulting (as in playing house), tap into their creativity, and discover their passions.
Importance of Play
Play is not optional. There is a reason that it’s Primal Blueprint Law #7 and Mark has written about it frequently here. (I’ll put some links at the bottom.) Yet, we all know that kids don’t play today like they used to for a variety of reasons. If this time at home offers one thing, it’s time for playing. This means getting free play, movement time, social time, music and arts time, and family time—checking a bunch of Primal boxes.
I’m not just talking about the kids, by the way. I’m talking about the adults in your house too. How much do YOU play in your normal life? I’m guessing not enough. A lot of the ideas here are fun for the whole family.
Play to Learn: Indoor and Outdoor Activities for Kids
For obvious reasons, I’m not listing things that involve going to parks or other public places. If you can still go for bike rides or kick the soccer ball around outside, great! You can do these inside or in your yard if you have one. I also didn’t list too many options that might necessitate shopping for materials. Pick the ideas that work for you given the ages of your kids, what stuff you already have at home, and how much space you have.
Before You Begin…
If you’re like us, you have a stash of art supplies, board games, boxes of legos and blocks, and sports equipment stuck on shelves and in closets. Dig it out and take inventory. What do you already have in your home that your kids can play with? Even bigger kids enjoy revisiting things like blocks and playdough, especially when they’re stuck at home.
I have a friend who, when her kids were little, would put out a craft or art project every night. When her boys woke up in the morning, it was waiting for them to explore at their leisure. It made for a lot of fun and peaceful mornings in their house. (Yes, she’s a supermom.)
I’m adapting this idea by designating a “creativity station.” Realistically, you might as well call this the “mess station.” Maybe it’s a card table in a corner of the living room, on the deck, or in the garage. I’m just giving up my kitchen table for now. Lay out a bunch of supplies and let them have at it. These stay out for several days at my house, then we clean it up and get out something else. Here are some ideas:
Ideas: Encourage kids to explore textures by using different types of objects as stamps: sponges, cookie cutters, leafs and sticks from the yard, legos, etc. Make footprints with action figures. Keep a bowl on hand that they can put dirty stuff in to wash. Also keep a pile of rags nearby for wiping dirty hands before they touch the wall.
Ideas: Give kids a theme (e.g., food, their favorite person) or just let them make whatever they want.
Supplies: Construction and tissue paper in different colors; glue; scissors (optional); bowls to keep colored confetti separated (optional)
Ideas: Have kids cut or tear colored paper into small pieces like confetti, then use the pieces to create mosaic art. You can use coloring book pages as a “pattern,” or they can draw their own or make it free-form.
Supplies: Plate or baking sheet; plastic table cloth or drop cloth (optional); containers of different sizes for mixing and pouring; water; food coloring; baking soda; pipettes, medicine droppers, etc. (raid the medicine cabinet); measuring spoons; baking soda; vinegar in a spray bottle; dish soap
Ideas: Let kids make “potions” and practice pouring from one container to another. Sprinkle baking soda on a plate, “decorate” with drops of food coloring, then spray with vinegar.
Bring some flashlights in a dark room or closet and make shadow puppets
Balloon “hockey” with balloons and brooms
In the snow: fill spray bottles with water and food coloring and “paint” the snow
Give the Kids — AND YOURSELF — A Break
The idea isn’t to keep your kids occupied every minute of the day. It’s ok if they complain about being bored every once in a while. If they are like most modern kids, they aren’t used to having a ton of time on their hands. Present them with options, but let them figure it out on their own if they are old enough.
Your house might be messy and chaotic right now. Your kids might be too. They are certainly not immune to the stress and anxiety in the world, especially your older kids. It’s ok if you don’t have a schedule with neat blocks of school time, movement time, snack time, and chore time, and if your kids haven’t gotten out of their pajamas in a week. Your kids are going to be fine no matter what.
This is not nearly an all-inclusive list. What else has your family been doing to have fun while #stayinghome?
Lindsay Taylor, Ph.D., is a senior writer and community manager for Primal Nutrition, a certified Primal Health Coach, and the co-author of three keto cookbooks.
As a writer for Mark’s Daily Apple and the leader of the thriving Keto Reset and Primal Endurance communities, Lindsay’s job is to help people learn the whats, whys, and hows of leading a health-focused life. Before joining the Primal team, she earned her master’s and Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, where she also worked as a researcher and instructor.
Lindsay lives in Northern California with her husband and two sports-obsessed sons. In her free time, she enjoys ultra running, triathlon, camping, and game nights. Follow along on Instagram @theusefuldish as Lindsay attempts to juggle work, family, and endurance training, all while maintaining a healthy balance and, most of all, having fun in life.