Free Play in a Pandemic: Tips for Home-bound families

School districts all around the country are closed to help slow the spread of this pandemic. This is a hard time for so many families. What are we to do with all this time at home? No school, no sports, no play dates! Maybe we can maybe make some lemonade out of all these lemons by giving children some much needed time and space for play.

Here is a recipe for children’s play…
Enough Time + A Playful Environment + Your Permission = PLAY

The time part is what we will now have in abundance! The other two factors are things we can control. Here are some tips to make your Pandemic Stay-cation as playful as possible:

1. It’s ok to be bored.
Many children are so used to having their lives planned out for them, they won’t know what to do with their new found free time. Boredom is not a problem that you need to solve for them. It is a starting place, a blank canvas from which amazing things can emerge!

2. Expand your tolerance for mess.
Play is messy! The expectation that kid spaces (and clothes) should be impeccably clean all the time can be a real barrier to free play. Is there one area of your home that you can allow to be a messy play zone? This can encourage complex multi-day creative play projects!

3. Enrich the environment with Loose Parts.
Loose parts are open-ended materials that kids can incorporate into their imaginative play. Unlike most toys, they don’t have a ‘right way’ they are supposed to be played with. Here are some materials that you might have at home already that can be wonderful Loose Parts for play!
- Cardboard boxes
- Sheets
- Pillows and cushions
- Tape
- Recycling items like tubs, bottles, egg crates
- String or yarn

4. Re-consider rough-housing.
When children can’t play outside, their bodies still need to move and be physical. If your child is drawn to rough-and-tumble play, how can you set up a space where this feels ok? Maybe pillows and a mattress on the floor? Try to eliminate hazards in the space (risks that a child might not notice) like sharp corners of furniture.

5. Give them some space.
And take some for yourself too! It can be hard to be cooped up with the kids all day. You don’t have to entertain them, but you certainly can play with them if they invite you! Give yourself a break by resisting the urge to over-supervise and police their play. They are going to be ok! Put on some noise cancelling headphones and do something you like to do.

Our children could look back on this period of time, not with a sense of fear, but of wonderment! It was a time when the normal rules were suspended for just a bit and they were allowed to imagine and inhabit their own playful worlds. Maybe it was the time when we all began to imagine how much better the world could be!