Modern life often leaves us little time to play. Here’s how to squeeze it in.
While our current campaign is all about how valuable dedicated play time is for both young people and adults alike, we also live in the real world. We know what life looks like for many families – with grown-ups having to fit childcare and leisure time around work, other family responsibilities and the basic administration of their lives. That’s why this article aims to help you with easy fixes for how to make time for play.
Let’s assume that if you’re reading this there is only so much time to go around. That means that you’re having to ensure that responsibilities like work, housework or trips out for essential admin or social/family commitments have to happen simultaneously with ensuring you find time for play… which is a big ask. Thankfully it’s not impossible… Let’s talk about each of these scenarios in turn.
In our article on ‘how play helps bring a family closer’ we noted how children entering one of our early years settings often head straight for the “home corner”, which mimics the kitchens and appliances found in their own houses. Well, the good news is you’ve got the original template in your own house! Although you obviously shouldn’t leave children unattended with ovens or gas hobs etc. here’s nothing wrong with making a game out of putting away the dishes, baking together or putting out the washing.
As mum Leanne told us: “my daughter Daisy loves helping me with the housework as the very act of doing it together makes it fun… She particularly likes chopping vegetables for me but even sorting the socks can be play! Anything can really”.
Other activities that children really enjoy are sweeping and polishing, hoovering and washing up (which is essentially a form of water play). You can also try giving them play items related to what you’re doing at the time – for example, giving them a lovely gooey bowl or flour and water to mix as you do baking or the washing up. Our experts also recommend giving children a ball of modelling dough that they can carry with them around the house. We cover the virtues of this miraculous, low-cost substance in one of our summer play activities but its versatility and relative ease to clean means that it’s the perfect “toy” for a child on the move or who needs to kill five minutes while a parent does a bit of housework or takes an important work call
And speaking of work calls…
There’s no doubt about it… balancing childcare and work is tough and for those of us who have to go into the office it might not be possible. The awful events of the past few years have had some positive effects, however, and more workplaces than ever have relaxed their rules regarding homeworking. If this is something you can arrange it can help to take micro-breaks throughout the day for play, like parent Scott.
He said: I think COVID helped my family as I work from home now. “We have some time during the day we can be together, and it’s important to dedicate time and set those boundaries”.
If the time you have to play is limited It can also help to set up activities during work breaks so that the clean up time is minimal.
For example one parent (and genius!) we spoke to keeps a roll of old wallpaper in the cupboard that she rolls out when her kids are playing with crayons or paints, so that the “floor” can be scooped up and recycled before heading back to work (or even cut out and displayed if it’s a masterpiece).
Essential trips out
It might be that you need to visit a council building, post office or relatives house on an urgent errand during time you would like to play. This is no problem according to our Child and Family Play and Learning Worker Rebecca, who recommends parents shift their perspective away from feeling like play has to be set up and done in specific places.
She said: “the good thing is that any environment can be a play environment. Often on trains, for example, I’ve seen children make hills and mountains with their clothes for their toys to climb. In many ways it’s good for them as it helps promote an imaginative approach to any environment”.
“The good thing is that any environment can be a play environment. It’s good for [children] as it helps promote an imaginative approach to any environment”.
For this reason it sometimes help to pack a small bag of mini-objects like cars and small figures – extra points if you get them a backpack so they can carry it themselves
Other good “out and about games” are the classic “I Spy” or the less well know “ice cream and jelly”, where you take turns saying this simple phrase in an interesting way – such as shouting or singing – and the other has to copy it.
A couple of other recent articles we’ve published might be useful here too. For example we’ve written a perfect companion piece to this one that features a range of fun games and activities that can be used to make daily chores a lot more fun. And if you’ve got a little more time we’ve also have compiled a list of simple, low-cost play activities for 0-5yrs that the whole family can enjoy that promote child development. These include simple things grown ups can do to help children get the most from these activities and help them bond with you.
What’s great about these activities is that often you don’t need to spend a lot of time physically playing if you have other responsibilities, and can instead set them up safe in the knowledge that they’re learning as they play.
Another useful tip is to keep a list on your phone of any suggestions for activities your children want to do so that when you finally do have time for play you’ve not got the dreaded “empty brain” that robs you of the little time you have… Instead you can say, for example, “remember that you said you want to go and feed the ducks on the local pond”?
Finally, it’s not useful for you to criticise yourself regarding how much available time you have to play, as often in the modern world things are beyond your control. Remember that the messages we see on social media are, by their nature, the bits other parents chose to share, and you can only make the best of the time and resources you have. What children really crave is the attention and love of their parents, so don’t worry too much if you can’t see ambitious plans through to their conclusion, as long as you’re together.
Having the time to play freely is easier when you’re confident that you’re going about it the right way. That’s why over the summer we’re sharing practical guidance from our child development experts on creating engaging play spaces and fun, simple, low-cost activities that the whole family can enjoy. Check out our Creating Happy Memories hub page to find out more.