10 Principles for Family Play

We’ve said it once and we’ve said it a gazillion times—play is vitally important. Both for your kids and for yourself. Which is a finding echoed in the latest LEGO Play Well Report, a just-released study which looks at the habits and attitudes around play of nearly 13,000 parents and children in 9 countries. Some major takeaways from this report (which you can download here) include the fact that families who play together are happier and less stressed, but a third of families are still struggling to fit in 5+ hours of family play a week, thanks to busy schedules and other distractions (chores, smartphones, etc.). Danish parenting expert and Mother favorite Jessica Joelle Alexander collaborated with LEGO on the report, and culled 10 “principles” to encourage more family play. Read ‘em and incorporate ‘em below.

1. Challenge Your Mindset. Start by challenging the way you think. Play is not the lazy choice. The benefits
of play are profound for children, families, and society. Believe in them and commit to making play a priority, be it in the physical, digital, or both worlds.
2. Kickstart with Physical Play. A small amount of physical play can help parents get into the right mindset for play, especially after a long day at work. Just ten minutes of an activity that gets hearts pumping and creates laughter helps families to connect in a way that is fundamental to family play.
3. Variety is Key. There are many ways to play: physical, creative, emotional, social, digital, and cognitive. Balance and variety is essential to develop a breadth of skills. Encourage your child to pick from a menu of multi-sensory play activities—active social play, online storytelling played out in real life, critical thinking and puzzle games, fantasy and constructive play.
4. Encourage Free Play. The less structured and supervised play is, the more rewarding children find it. Give a few inspirational directions but let children direct the action. Free, self-directed play empowers children, so they develop confidence, autonomy, and self-esteem.
5. Go with the Flow. Flow is a psychological state we get to when we play well. We become highly creative, lose sense of time and experience deep contentment, and learn most easily. When play starts to unfold easily and effortlessly, note what you were doing…then do more of it the next time you play.
6. Think Creativity over Mess. Most of us like to keep the house neat and tidy, but that can mean we are hiding away vital playthings. Children don’t see mess, they see a stimulating environment full of tools to help them be creative. Adopting this view should help us leave out toys and craft supplies more easily, even at times when we struggle to see nothing but mess!
7. Plan a Family Playdate—and Keep It! Children love having something to look forward to, so plan a family playdate together, even if it’s just 15 minutes before dinner. Let them call the shots by choosing layout, snacks, games to play, or movies to watch. Planning the date themselves will encourage them to be creative and train their decision-making skills.
8. Be Silly. Children like seeing parents being silly. Choose a real-life or imaginary person, film or TV character together and play it out with your child. Funny voices, mimicry, and physical actions help children flex their imaginations and storytelling abilities and helps you explore emotions together and better get to know your child’s world.
9. Embrace Mistakes. If your child makes a mistake when you are playing a game together online, or building something in the real world, don’t tell them or fix it straight away, let them figure it out for themselves. Ask them why they are correcting it in the certain way. Help to support and not direct, it will help build resilience and a growth mindset.
10. Gamify Chores. We all have to do chores—even kids—but they don’t have to be boring. A simple way to make them more fun is just to put on some music and turn dusting or folding into a dance party. Or add an element of competition by trying to beat the clock as you all join in to clear away the dishes, turning chores into precious bonding time.

As Featured in MOTHER magazine


Jessica Joelle Alexander

Jessica Joelle Alexander is a bestselling author, Danish parenting expert, columnist, speaker, and cultural researcher. Her work has been featured in TIME, The Atlantic, Salon, NPR, Huffington Post, NY Times and many more. She is the author of 3 books, gives talks and workshops globally, and researches and writes for UC Berkeley's Towards Belonging Institute

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