How To: Set Up Play
Do you want to play more with your child, or facilitate more independent play but just don't know where to start? Follow these five easy steps:
1) Using what you already have, decide on a style of play that firstly, you're happy with and secondly that your child will enjoy. This could be anything from: sensory play, arts and crafts, small world play, role play, an educational game, something indoors or outdoors.
2) Set limitations. This sounds as if it will cramp creativity, but actually it will do the opposite. Children thrive with held-boundaries, they like to know what is and is not allowed in any given situation. So, decide if you fancy some art but don't want to get the paints out, or if you are in the mood for sensory play but don't want to get messy (the two do not have to be one and the same!) or you fancy getting some fresh air and playing outside but you are not willing to get wet.
3) Gather everything that you will need to play, to enjoy and to clear up; run a bath and get towels ready if you are planning messy play. Being prepared before you start means that you don't have the anxiety of realising something important needs to be done, but now everyone is covered in paint and can't be left unsupervised...
4) Communicate your boundaries and limitations with your child: we can play with the playdough but only at the table, we can play with the cars but we are not allowed to race them along the walls, we can play with the jelly but only in the garden and please try to keep most of it inside the tray. It is important to not set your child up to fail - if you do not communicate your boundaries then you are allowing them free reign, and we all know that you don't really mean that! Once you have done this, make sure you return to a light and playful tone - being firm is not the same as being cross!
5) Play too! Play is much more successful if you send a couple of minutes modelling how to play. Allow yourself to be silly, excited, ask questions, show curiosity and you will spark their imagination. You do not need to sit with them the entire time, but you might just want to! Children love it when we share their interests and are wholly present, so put your phone or work away for a few moments and it will encourage them to play too! If you have space, and if it is safe to do so, I always recommend leaving your set-up beyond the original play. Children learn through repetition and you will enjoy seeing their play evolve each time they return to it.