Week 6: Come on, it’s Play Time!

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In my last week’s blog post, I talked about the 30-Day Mothering Challenge and true to my word and nature, I did take up the challenge. And the incorrigible perfectionist that I am, I also devised my own routine for my son, wherein we included all kinds of ‘play’. His one consistent complaint is that I don’t play with him enough. We had experimented with me playing an hour a day every day with him, but that also did not make my 6-year-old quite the happy bouncy bunny that I was expecting him to be! I spent a few hours researching on the internet and found out the different kinds of play that a child of his age should be engaged in. I have added my own to the list and incorporated it in our weekly routine.

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In addition to all this, I also included cleaning up the room after play, and a session where we expressed our feelings, thoughts, worries, and dreams. Here’s the thing. After a week of all this play and no work, I feel like a dull (and thoroughly knackered) Jill.

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So, how much play is enough?

A friend was right when she said that children will always demand more and more of your attention. So where do you draw the line? That got me thinking about the importance of play and how much play is actually required for a child and how much will not kill an adult. Don’t get me wrong. I love my child to bits and love every second I spend with him, but there comes a time when I need some time alone. Needless to say, I am not even close to the recommended weekly average of 7-8 hours of sleep. So, how much time should I actually be playing with him? As a Stay at Home Mom (SAHM), I am writing this blog, I am working on my novel, a friend and I run a Book Club for kids called Book Explorers, I am trying to keep a relatively clean house, AND on top of that, I am trying to spend quality time playing with my child. If you think about it, I am playing house all day, with some smattering of playing ‘home office’. While I still struggle with finding that perfect balance between making my child happy with his play time and having a productive week (work-wise); I felt it was time I explored this world of play and how important it is for people of all ages.

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Kinds of play—is it for me?

While it is recommended that children engage every week in these different kinds of play, the question that I ended up asking myself was: ‘Is it for me?’ I ventured to deconstruct them one by one in an attempt to figure out if I could apply the same theory to adults.

Toys and Objects – Go fly a kite, or solve a super complicated 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle with your partner, or make a miniature model of something, or play a game of poker, or cards, or scrabble, or monopoly. Take out that guitar or drum set that has been collecting dust and just ‘play’ it (pun intended)! A part of growing up is about losing touch with our inner child. Reminding ourselves of the toys we loved tinkering with as a child is a terrific stress-buster.

Independent Play – this is what we adults call ‘me time’. It is absolutely crucial that we get some of some alone (down) time every day. Some people do this early in the morning and there is a lot of talk about the importance of a morning routine and I, for one, have my own Morning Routine which I try to follow at least 3 to 5 days a week.

Creative Play – I can already hear a lot of groaning because as adults, after being fed by all kinds of negative messages inside our heads, we begin to believe that we are not creative enough, or creative at all. I believe that all of us have some creativity in us. It is just a matter of tapping into it. It can be as simple as designing a corner of your living room! So, take that journey and find out your secret creativity pool within. You might be in for a surprise!

Movement Play/Outdoor Play – Aah, this is the easy one. Did you like soccer, or played cricket for your school team? Find some like-minded friends and get together. And if you are like me, who isn’t really into team sports or sports at all, for that matter; then find any activity that makes you get away from that belly-expanding, muscle-degenerating chair of yours and move your body. But it needs to be in what you consider play. Don’t say ‘I’ll hit the gym’. Instead, think – ‘I’ll run around the park like some friend was chasing me in a game of tag’. The goal is to have fun, not lose weight.

Music Play – When was the last time you actively listened to music? When I say ‘active’, I mean that it was not playing in the background while you were cooking or in the car while you were driving. Sit down, put your feet up, and just listen. Give yourself permission to be in the moment. This is also, by the way, an excellent way to meditate, or practice mindfulness.

Book Play – This one’s a no-brainer. We all know the benefits of reading. If you realistically aim to read one book in 15 days, then you end up reading 24 books in a year! Got to www.goodreads.com and enrol in the 2020 reading challenge now! And while you are at it, do some research on the author or watch a movie adaptation of the same.

Challenge Play – Now, this is a tricky one but if you can allow yourself something fun during a work week and while sitting at the work desk, then perhaps, this could be a window of opportunity waiting for you to open. Challenge yourself to not read emails or login to social media for a certain time during the day. You choose the length of time and time of day. For SAHMs like me, I like challenging myself to take 10 minute breaks and doing some household chore, like folding away laundry, but only within 10 minutes. If you are working from home, then ‘challenge play’ is an excellent way to keep yourself accountable.

Pretend Play – Apart from the glaringly obvious instances of using some imagination in the bedroom — because let’s not be prudes; Pretend Play can also be used in everyday life. Let me tell you how I use it once in a while. When I am stuck in traffic or when I am running against time (which is every single morning), to drop off my son to school, we pretend that what we say will come true. He believes (and I pretend to believe) that magic is real. We say the words “Let the roads be empty” out loud, and the consequent joy in my son’s voice when we perchance reach school on time despite leaving late, is indescribable. Try pretending you’re someone else today and see how Magic can become real!

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 What is play and who is it for?  

Play is an activity for enjoyment and recreation. I believe, ‘play’ is equally important for adults, and also for the older generation. Inter-generational play is a beautiful way through which children learn many life skills that they cannot possibly pick up from playing with peers or parents. Let me elaborate with an example. We live in what is typically called a residential society in Mumbai. Like all ‘societies’, we organize cultural events on important days. On 26th January, India’s Republic Day, we organized a morning of fun games and sports activities for people of all ages. The <4 year olds played a fun race of picking up potatoes and putting them in baskets, the 5-8 year olds played the age-old lemon on a spoon game, and >8 year olds played the balloon race where they had to balance a balloon between their knees and hopping to the finish line without bursting the balloon. There was a baton race for the adults and there was an inter-generational scavenger hunt for the kids and the grandparents. Then there was also a stationary game of pin the wheel on the Indian flag (modified pin the tail on the donkey) for those who could not move around too much. Needless to say, everyone had a marvelous time! So, who is to say that only children should play?

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Play vs exercise

Every day this week, my son and I have indulged in Movement Play. Admittedly, it is something he enjoys the most. I obliged. We have shaken our bodies randomly to music and ended up in uncontrollable fits of giggles; we have taken impromptu walks and talked about the sounds we can hear and tiny things we can see; and we have challenged each other to jump rope 10 times in a row; among other things. When you think about it, it was all ‘play’ for him, but I also ended up burning a few extra calories. So, why should play not be a part of exercise? Why have we made exercise that regimented block of time when we focus on our bodies and will it to perform and achieve and reach the weekly/daily goals? If we can take up an activity that we enjoy and think of as play, then as adults, I believe, we will stick to our exercise routines better. It is time we rethink exercise and rename it as Movement Play, instead?

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Nurturing curiosity, creativity, and connection through play

One Sunday morning, all the kids (and their parents) in the building decided to get together and draw and paint. While the adults spent an hour and half trying to make something meaningful; the children just went with the flow and did whatever came to their minds. The result was a colourful display of play at its best. When we looked around the room, we could see smiling faces everywhere. The grown-ups enjoyed their time doing something that was an escape from their mundane adult preoccupations. The simple activity released creativity and built connections. As parents, we sometimes find it difficult to connect with our children, for reasons ranging from time-crunch, to stress, to fatigue. But when we spend some time in play, ideally with our children, it has immense benefits for our mental well being as well. As adults, the value of play is un-quantifiable. Who can quantify the joy of returning to one’s childhood? How can we measure the pleasure of simply being oneself? By spending some time in play, as adults, we can connect with our selves, open our minds to creativity, and nurture some curiosity about things that we had pushed away into the dark recesses of our souls. Come on now, let’s pledge to play!

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