Make time for fun: What to play with children

I have recently learnt a very important thing about myself – I am very task orientated. I love interacting with my children, but I am not too good on free play and just hanging out. I benefit from a little structure and play with a focus. I don’t mind if the game goes off on a tangent, but I do need that little bit of structure to feel really relaxed with my children.

We all need to spend quality time with our children, focussing on them and their thoughts and ideas. It is during these times that our children share with us on a deeper level and real relationship develops.

Finding time to have fun with my kids is a challenge. With work, school and daily chores, it can be hard to find good times to relax and relate with your children. I have found that the in-between times are best for play.

We seem to spend a lot of time waiting around for things as a family. Doctor’s rooms, supermarket lines, traffic jams, and airport terminals are all places where tempers can easily get frayed. Keeping minds occupied helps everyone.

If you want to prevent boredom meltdowns, try some of the following ideas:

  • Playing opposites. Say a word and your child has to come up with a word that means the opposite. For young players, try obvious ones like hot and cold. For older players, you could try to find the opposite of whale, or butter, or spacious.
  • Choose an object, stare at it for 20 seconds and then take your eyes from it. Describe it in as much detail as you can, from the colour, to shape and texture. This game is great for developing memory and descriptive language skills.
  • Teach your child how to count, say hello or think in another language. We have used Chinese, French, German and Maori with our children. They love to learn words in other languages – and if they know some, then get them to teach you.
  • Take turns humming a wellknown tune and see if the other person can guess it.
  • Turn your hands into puppets and talk to each other in funny voices. (works for younger children.)
  • Play the “what if” game. Take an imaginary scenario and brainstorm what it would be like if it happened.
  • A pen and paper can turn any waiting time into a great time for games. Lists, letters and dot-to-dot are all fun activities for you to compose together.

Also, you can attempt any of these:

  • Making a “why not?” list of things to do during your next family holiday. Your list may include ideas such as “Why not have a topsy turvy day?” or “Why not watch a sunset together?”
  • Get them to write a report card on how they think you are doing as a parent – are you spending enough time with them, laughing with them enough or reading enough books?
  • Write a letter together to a distant relative, a famous person or a favourite book character.
  • Make a wish list of all the things you would love to get for your birthday. Start with the obvious such as a new toy and book and move to outlandish ones with hopes, dreams and world peace.
  • Write a long word (such as imagination or enterprise) down on a piece of paper and find as many words as you can using the letters from the word.
  • Play a guessing game, drawing a picture bit by bit – can the other person guess what you are drawing?

If you’re at home, there are still plenty of things you can do to interact with your child. Some of my favourite ideas include:

  • Get their help making dinner in the kitchen. They can help to measure, slice and dice.
  • Make a family set of place mats depicting favourite family activities on A4 sheets of paper and laminate to protect.
  • Teach them what a weed looks like and go weeding in the garden together.
  • Play a board game or a card game.
  • Go for a walk together for a purpose – collecting pine cones, or observing letterbox shapes and colours. Take every opportunity to help your children observe something new about their surroundings.

Rachel Goodchild is a presenter and writer specialising in relationships of every concoction from family to dating. Her book Eighty Eight Dates was released by Penguin in Feb 2009, and she is currently appearing on TV3 in New Zealand for “Rachel Goodchild’s Good Advice”

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