This post is part of the #PetitsFilousPlayFree campaign.
“I’m bored!” Aieeee – this phrase must be the bane of every parent’s life.
My response is a bit fight-or-flight: quickly find my five- and eight-year old something to do, or watch domestic chaos unfold.
Unfortunately, in my case that something is usually the TV, or electronic gadgets.
But, over the last couple of weeks, something different has been going on in our family. As part of their #PetitsFilousPlayFree campaign, the snack company asked us to ‘Let Them Be Bored’- to just sit back, and allow the children to come up with their own ideas about how to fill their time.
Play England defines Free Play as “…children choosing what they want to do, how they want to do it and when they want to stop and try something else. Free Play has no external goals set by adults and has no adult imposed curriculum. Although adults usually provide the space and resources for Free Play and might be involved, the child takes the lead and the adults respond to cues from the child.”
I was keen. Having the mental space to play, and be spontaneous, is one of the nicest things about being on holiday. I wanted to try and re-create that relaxed, joyful feeling at home.
It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. If it’s not too clichéd, to say this, I do feel that our family’s grown a little. Here are some of the things I’ve learned from letting my children be bored.
Being a playmate is fun
Going on a train journey to China, dressing up as witch-fairies, and setting up a royal tea party are just a few of the games Gwen has dreamt up for the two of us. And it’s been a blast. Petits Filous invited Anita Cleare, a passionate advocate for the importance of play in children’s lives, to give us advice and support through the challenge. She pointed out that play is “as close to being truly light-hearted and carefree as most parents get“. She told me: “when you stop trying to control things – the housework, the children’s play – you can relax, and become ‘Fun Mum’.”
Play’s proven to be a great way for adults to beat stress. And everyone wants to be ‘fun Mum’, right?
Play doesn’t get in the way of other things
I did think that, without the TV to rely on as a babysitter, I might find it difficult to get everything done. But one way or another, I’ve managed to cook the dinner, help the children with their homework – and find time to play with them. Sometimes my daughter’s ‘cooked’ in her own toy kitchen while I’ve been at the hob. Other times she’s headed upstairs with her big brother, to make mosaics with little sticky squares, or play with their mini Pokemon figures. I haven’t had to make any big changes in my life or our routine, to fit in play – it’s just happened naturally.
They don’t always need my help
This natural flow has felt so refreshing. Austin and Gwen don’t always need to rely on me to find them entertainment. I did have a hunch this might be true, but now I feel more confident to just say, “your’re bored? Ok – find yourself something to do. “
And sometimes they’d rather I didn’t join in at all. When I popped my head round Austin’s bedroom door on Sunday morning, to check that they were playing nicely (which they were), Austin asked if I could leave them, because it was ‘kids’ time’. They wanted to play, undisturbed, in their own private world – and that felt so liberating.
Instead of descending into squabbles, the children get on better with each other
My main worry was that letting the children be bored would lead to non-stop squabbling. Like most siblings, Austin and Gwen often compete for attention. I found it difficult to see how the one-upmanship could turn into harmonious play. But my fears have been turned on their head. Instead of fighting, the children seem to be getting on better.
As Anita told me when I spoke with her, play is a bonding experience. The children learn to read each other’s cues better, and how to negotiate. A couple of mornings into the experiment, Austin came in to mine and D’s bed to say good morning. When his little sister walked in a few minutes later, instead of bickering and fighting over who gets to snuggle in closer to Mum or Dad, they just trooped off together to carry on with their keyboard concert – something they’d been doing the day before. Anita pointed out that continuing a game like this, which began earlier, is a way to step back into the ‘play zone’ – a shortcut to fun times.
You can plan for free play
I wouldn’t say the sibling rivalry’s completely gone. It’s still there, especially in the times when everyone’s a bit tired and crabby. After school seems to be a particular flashpoint, when the children are hungry, and wound up after their long day. Anita gave me some advice about trying to move the children into a more light-hearted frame of mind. She suggested that, on the way home from school, I ask them what they’re going to play when they get back, and to give them time to play before getting out homework, or switching on the TV. This seems to have helped.
Free play can transform
I’ve been delighted at the results of this challenge. My daughter, in particular, seems to have grown in confidence. Since the challenge has started, by coincidence she’s performed on stage in front of the whole year group of parents, and recited a poem to her class, off by heart. She managed both with aplomb. Play is supposed to work wonders in building children’s self-esteem, but I hadn’t expected it to have quite such a quick effect. And my son has shown some signs of real generosity over his time with Mum and Dad. He even said ‘yes’ to Gwen joining in with a game of draughts he and I were playing, which was unusual for him. As Anita pointed out, play has helped us all work better as a team – and we’ve really felt the benefits.
If you want to see some other parents talking about how their own children enjoy free play, check out this video from Petits Filous. Gwen has enjoyed munching into Petits Filous while we’ve been out and about. The company sent us a carry case, which we made full use of at the weekend, when we headed over to Eltham Palace. You can keep the handy pouches and pots out of the fridge for up to five hours, so they’ve been good for helping Gwen get a boost of vitamin D and calcium while out and about. Great for healthy bones, especially in the dark winter months.
Petits Filous Play Free: parents feelings when they see their children Play Free
Hear what parents told us when we asked “what do you enjoy the most when watching your child Play Free?” #PetitsFilousPlayFreePosted by Petits Filous on Wednesday, 17 January 2018
You might also be interested to read my feature on how to work from home with kids.