Finding Time to Play

kids playing

With the start of school, I already see exhausted kids and parents. Parents struggling to find a balanced life.  I recall when Mel was younger, we had so many appointments.  So little time.  The exhaustion, I see, if often not the overwhelmed; my child is enrolled in to many activities, type of tired. This is the, to many medical appointments, too much therapy and too much homework kind of exhaustion.

What is a parent, of a special needs child, to do?   Research indicates that the more that is done at an early age, the better the outcome. Blog upon blog of recommendations.  As a parent, you have three plus therapists and two different teachers giving you homework.  Stretches, exercises, reading sheets, math sheets and articulation drills.  I love the therapists who shoves 20 pages of suggestions into your hands. How do you figure out which ones you are supposed to do.  Half, make no sense.  How long? How many?  Why? And is this forever?  Guilty, if you do.  Guilty, if you do not.

And then what about the siblings.  They deserve a life outside of waiting rooms.

My strategy, when Mel was younger, was to institute no screen time and no therapy time No Screen Time =  No electronic devices today until a certain time.  No Therapy Time = A few weeks (typically in the summer) or even a month (typically December) in which no medical appointments and no therapy, or home programs were completed.

Another strategy, I  talked extensively with her school about homework.  Our compromise, Mel was to complete one or two hours of homework.  I was then to sign her papers with a large line.  The line and signature meant she had done her best, studied hard and was finished with working.  Mel needed her sleep.  She needed her down time. Mom needed her sleep and her down time.

A blog by Embrace your Chaos reminded me of my childhood.  We lived in the county and had tons of acres to just explore.  One of my fondest memories was dad bringing home large, cardboard boxes.  The empty boxes were stacked in an attached garage.  The garage was a large play area. The large, outside door typically open to allow fresh air in.  It also allowed free access to the outdoors.   I do not recall any fancy toys, just a wide open space.  I loved those boxes.  For weeks the boxes were cut, decorated and stacked. Stacked into tunnels, houses, forts, and  various obstacle courses.  Hours upon hours of PLAY.  When do today’s kids get such fun?

As a parent, of a child with special needs, I had to constantly remind myself to make time for play.   Time to just do what kids should do.  PLAY.  It is so easy to get wrapped up in your goals. Yes, I said your goals.  I.e. mom’s goals. How often do we ask a child what they what to be doing?   Unfortunately, today many kids would respond “Computer, Video Games, Television.” What ever happened to exploring, creating, pretending?  Doing something with almost nothing.  To letting your mind run wild.

Embrace your Chaos’s post asks great questions and gives us all a much needed reminder.

Kids today “seem to be outgrowing the dolls and train sets at a much earlier age.  I often wonder why that is?  Why are our kids growing up so fast?  Why are they outgrowing play so early?  Is it the obsession with electronics and video games?  Is it the trend of over-scheduling our children’s time?  Is it the change in the education system?  I remember doing TONS of pretend play in Kindergarten but now kids are spending a lot of their time at the table.

I have to be quite honest…I am terrified by this trend.  For one, I don’t want my babies growing up that fast.  I want them to have time to be kids and actually play.  And two, I don’t want them to miss out on the opportunities pretend play provides for building various cognitive, social-emotional, and life skills.

……, I thought about all the skills she is building as she plays:

  • Social Skills: She is learning to take turns and share as she and I switch between dolls and clothing and between play ideas and scenarios.  She is learning cooperative play as she engages in a shared play activity.
  • Social-Emotional Development:  She is given the opportunity to express herself and explore with emotions in a safe environment.  She is learning empathy and building her self-confidence.  And she is understanding that others have their own unique thoughts and feelings.
  • Cognitive Skills:  She is learning problem-solving skills and building her imagination and creativity.
  • Life Skills:  She is exploring and imitating daily routines and self-care skills, developing independence, and learning responsibility.

So, as we are teaching our kids their letters and numbers and how to tie their shoes, remember to also help them play.  Get on the floor and play dolls or tea party or trains and be a kid again yourself!  It’s actually pretty fun!”

To see the entire post follow this link

And I totally agree.  Sometimes finding time to play can be hard.  Have you ever taken a week off from therapy? Taken a week off from all those extra educational/therapy home programs?   I once asked a parent, “If Emma had not been born with Down Syndrome, what would your family be doing over this vacation?” She responded with a long pause…and then an exhausted shrug.  I recommended she answer that question.  I continued, “take time off from the therapy/educational routine and do exactly that.”  When Emma returned, I got the biggest hug from her mom.

I am hoping someone, somewhere, who is reading this will take a few extra hours this holiday weekend to play.  A few hours to: get on the floor,  get messy, do something for no reason.  To play the way kids used to play.  No fancy toys, to electronics, no structure.  JUST PLAY

My homework for all parents, “Spend time playing for the sake of having fun”  Lets see what happens….


2 thoughts on “Finding Time to Play

  1. Great post. We went through 6 months of the crazy therapy schedule you described, and my son finally said – in his own way – ENOUGH! I don’t always agree that all these therapies are doing anything when kids don’t even get a chance to rest, play, or be themselves. It can be exhausting.

    • It is a hard call to make. I’m glad your son was able to communicate “enough” with you. It makes me sad to see kids who are screaming for down time and the parents continue to push. Find the balance is so important

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