Friday, April 6, 2007

The Perfect Play-Day

Play-days are the perfect learning experience: it is a time to have fun, share, follow rules, develop creativity, solve problems and learn leadership.

As moms, we have to plan play-days carefully. Lets say that I invite a couple of 3 year old playmates over; I will typically do the following:

1) The day before the play-day:

- We agree on a schedule for the things that will happen during the play-day, like, "first I will pick you all at school. Then when we get home we have to wash our hands, leave the back packs at the door ready for when their moms come pick them up. Remind your friends that they all will have to help you clean up your room, because is not fair with your brother that he finds his room messy when he comes back from school..."

- We will choose the games and activities; I will ask my son if he wants to play with cars, trains, water guns, blocks, memory, dominoes, bingo, hide and seek... If we are going to have a two hour play time, then I will try to choose a different game for every 30 minutes and have some other ready as back-up, in case that they change their mind. I will try to avoid TV, computer or video games on play-days.

- Then we go and check if the games that we want to use are complete and ready.

2) On the day of the play-day:

- I will explain the program to the other kids and will let them know our rules: how they must always share and take turns, how it must be fun day and not a time for fighting or arguing and we make the agreement that in order to do our play-day again we all have to clean up the room after we finish playing.

-If they don't feel like playing one of the games that my son and I chose, I will give them some other options, that I know are appropriate for their age.

- I will show to them the bathroom that they can use and tell them the time we will have our snack, this way we avoid unwanted trips to the fridge. It is a good time to remind them things like: "it is not nice to jump on our sofa, or no food or drinks inside the bedrooms, etc."

More Ideas on Play-days:
Kids work better when they know what you expect them to do. It is not that you want them to become robots, but at three years of age it is hard to know how to have fun on a play-day. Usually they come in and have a good look at the place, rooms, games, people in the house and ask all kinds of questions. After they familiarize themselves with the environment, they will go do the things they are most interested in, but then they have some difficulties sticking to whatever they choose to do and here is when the big mess comes: they start opening all the games, putting them on the floor but usually they don't really play anything.

It is a good idea on the first sessions of play-days, that you give them some ideas of how to play, like "imagine that you are working at an airport and this area of the room will be where the counter is, this other part is the waiting room... Who wants to be the pilot? Who wants to be the passenger? Who wants to be the flight attendant?" Let them imagine and use their creativity. Always make room for any kind of crazy idea, like "imagine that the counter is made of chocolate" or "if the plane where shaped like a square without wings..." After they are more or less organized, you may leave them on their own and they will probably start making up some other things.

It is also a good idea that they don't see all the games that are available to them the first time they play in your home, because the next time they come over, the games will not be new to them; it is better to make them think like they have a new game every time they come. This is why I try to give them out one at the time. All this is part of learning how to play.

Sometimes we do a learning play-day like phonic bingo or landmark bingo, art and crafts, playing with numbers, etc. depending also on my time. What we have seen is that the most popular game at our playdays is the Alphabet Bingo.

Our play-days are always on the same day of the week, and we rotate the house among the parents of the play-day group. We have found that every time we add new friends to our play-day group, the kids will be the ones that explain to the new ones how things work at our house.

Girls' play-days are different than boys' play-days. Girls usually are complicated when they start to fight over who is the best friend of whom, or who has the most beautiful costume. Boys are loud and energetic. If I have a coed play group and with different ages we often play restaurant, so we have role play for boys and girls, like a couple that comes to the restaurant with their baby, a chef, a waitress; this also works for office, store or bank, that way we have cashier, customer service people, etc.

Remember to always have fun and enjoy this great time in your child's life!