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6 Tips to Incorporate Play into Your Busy Day

by Lily Baiser, MS, OTR/L, Co-Founder and Lead Therapist, Kinspire

Are our kids playing enough? 

Based on what I see in my practice as an occupational therapist, I say no: our children aren’t playing enough. Whether it’s from the increase in virtual learning, the rise of digital entertainment, or parental work schedules that leave little time for family activities, children are growing up today with less active playtime.

I get it, though. As a working mom of two, making sure my children get enough playtime feels like another job. But the developmental benefits are enormous, and luckily there are easy ways to incorporate play into your busy day.

Play is one of the most important aspects of a child’s life. Children are biologically programmed to play, because it’s how they learn. Play helps to develop motor coordination, social skills, language, emotional maturity, and self-confidence. It also provides opportunities for new experiences, and it helps children learn to adapt. Play is essential for learning and development. As a practicing pediatric occupational therapist, I incorporate play into all my therapy sessions; without play, life would be pretty boring!

Here are a few of my tips to help you incorporate play into your busy life:

  1. Offer open-ended toys you have around the house. My kids’ favorite toy, hands down, is a cardboard box. There are endless ways to play with a box; it’s quite thrilling to see what your child comes up with. Other suggestions: blocks, kitchen tools (plates, cups, bowls), paper and tape. 

  2. Cut down on extracurricular activities. I know this seems counterintuitive, but over-scheduling your kids can be stressful for them and limit their opportunities to play. Let your kids get bored -- that’s when the most creative play happens! Another added benefit is less time chaperoning them from place to place

  3. Mealtime games. I am a big fan of playing games during a sit-down dinner. I don’t mean physical games, but cognitively challenging games. These not only cultivate creativity, imagination, and problem-solving skills, but they’re also great opportunities to build quality family time into your day.  Some of my family’s favorite games are: “Guess what animal I’m thinking of,” “Guess what number I’m thinking of,” “Make up a wacky ice cream flavor,” and “What song am I humming?”

  4. Healthy screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends creating healthy screen time practices for children and teenagers starting as early as possible, not just by limiting hours but talking to kids about what they’re watching and modeling good habits in your own screen time. The AAP recommends no screen time for children under 18 months, except for video chatting with family members.

  5. Create a “Bored Box”. I love this one! Find a box, fill it with open-ended toys, and whenever your child says, “I’m bored,” direct them to the “Bored Box” and challenge them to create something (an invention, a sculpture, a collage) with what’s inside. Switch out the items every so often to keep it fresh!

  6. Incorporate play into household chores. We all have chores, so we might as well make them fun! Need your windows cleaned? Give your child a rag and a spray bottle and let them pretend they are a cleaning superhero! Turn cleaning their room into a rainbow color game: put away all the red items first, then orange and so on. You need to get the mail? See how fast they can run to the mailbox and back. These games help to strengthen their development, and it’s a great way to incorporate play without spending extra time doing it.

Research has shown that children who participate in play frequently grow quickly, experience higher achievement in school, and develop healthy habits for adulthood. So ditch the worksheets, balance out the screens, and get your kids playing!

Lily Baiser, MS, OTR/L, is Co-Founder and Lead Therapist at Kinspire and a pediatric occupational therapist with 14 years of pediatric experience in sensory-based clinic, home, and school-based settings.