Caring for preschoolers can take a great deal of energy.
Their own energy levels can sometimes seem to drain yours dry. It can be tempting for parents to attempt to snag a few minutes of peace and quiet by parking their tots in front of a TV or tablet. In truth, there is nothing wrong with carving out some time for yourself by keeping your tots entertained, but that needs to happen in proper balance.
Engaging in meaningful play with your preschooler is an important part of both their development and your own relationship building.
Here are three tips to engaging in meaningful play with your preschooler
1. Concrete Is Okay
Yes, preschoolers love activities that specifically engage their imaginations like pretend tea parties or pretend weddings. These are great,but they can also be intimidating to adults who don’t really know how to respond or engage.
If you feel comfortable engaging with your preschooler in their rich inner fantasy world, great. Otherwise, it’s also okay for you to bring them into the more concrete environments of your own.
Remember that almost everything you do is a strange and new activity for them. From vacuuming to washing windows to baking a cake or cookies – which have simply become rote chores for you – may be a fascinating new experience for them.
You can simply give them a small water bottle and a squeegee or paper towel and show them how to wash windows. The section they work on may not come out as sparkling clean as yours, but the goal is not to accomplish a specific outcome but just to have fun doing a new thing.
You can also give them a small hand vacuum and scatter a few cheerios for them to pick up or even just have them open a cake box and dump it into a bowl or try their hand at cracking eggs open.
Even the most simple and mundane tasks for you can be wonderful new experiences for your preschooler.
2. Technology Doesn’t Have to Be the Enemy
We’ve all had that experience of trying to have a meaningful conversation or interaction with someone who is otherwise engrossed in their phone, the TV, a tablet or some other type of technology.
Conversely, we have also experienced the bonding that can happen while watching a TV show, movie or enjoying other technological entertainment together – even a simple YouTube video or meme.
Technology itself is not the issue, the issue is whether technology is being used to foster connection or create distance.
Yes, sometimes you need a break from the high energy levels and demands of your toddler,and it’s perfectly okay to use technology as a brief diversion but you can also use technology to create a connection.
With hundreds of apps and games that are much more than just mindless entertainment, your preschoolers can learn lots of new things, and you can bond over the fun activities presented in those.
3. Get Outside
When adults think of “playtime” they often think of playrooms full of toys, games and other types of amusement or entertainment. The truth is, however, that almost every event and activity can be fun for a preschooler.
In reality, they don’t even yet have a real concept of what it means to work versus play. Everything they do is playtime. They also have a lot of energy that can sometimes become overwhelming to parents when they are enclosed in a small space.
Conversely, the world at large is absolutely chock full of new and exciting things to see, touch, smell and explore-and there are no boundaries to hold all of their energy in. It is easy for adults to think they have to go somewhere to get outdoors with their preschoolers, but you might be surprised at just how much wonder and awe they find in just a simple walk around the block.
To a preschooler, just the block you live on can be a vast expanse of new sights, sounds, smells and experiences that you yourself have long since stopped noticing. You might be surprised at just how long a simple walk around the block can take when you are walking with a small human taking in any number of things for the first time.
Final Thoughts on Meaningful Playtime
In a world so full of commercial products aimed at engaging preschoolers, it can be easy to assume you need a lot of toys, games and special products to have meaningful interactions with them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pots, pans or a closet full of old clothes can all be just as fascinating to a preschooler as thousands of dollars of new toys and games.
What makes all the difference in the world is a connection. Whether you have a lot of money to invest in your preschoolers or nothing but your time, your personal engagement is one of the very best and most important educational and relational gifts you can give them.
Heather Redding is a part-time assistant manager, solopreneur and writer based in Aurora, Illinois. She is also an avid reader and a tech enthusiast. When Heather is not working or writing, she enjoys her Kindle library and a hot coffee. Reach out to her on Twitter.
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