I’m trying to homeschool my two children, aged five and seven, as well as work from home, so I just don’t have time to play with them as well as do everything else. Does it really matter at the moment?
Rowen Smith, head of training at the emotional health charity Family Links, says: “It’s clearly a huge pressure for parents to be homeschooling, especially for those parents who are also trying to do their job. All the research tells us how important play is for children’s development and learning across all ages. It’s the way they may make sense of the world, increase understanding of themselves, and learn to develop their social and relationship skills.
“Play is vitally important for children’s development and learning, so it really helps them if we can incorporate play into our own everyday lives and activities. It takes very little, if any, extra time and the benefits are great, for us and them. Play is children’s work.
“Children’s play doesn’t have to involve expensive toys and games and special visits to the park. Parents can give their children lots of play opportunities even when time pressures are tight. The secret is building play into our everyday lives and chores.
“For example, when cooking we can encourage children to be creative about using spoons, whisks, or dried pasta as resources for play. Younger children love being chased by the vacuum cleaner or hiding under the table, using it as a den, while we’re using it to work on.
“Making anything into a race or timing activities can make them more playful – children love being given a specific amount of time to tidy up as many toys as possible, or to gather specific shopping items to put in the supermarket trolley.
“When out walking, you can play i-spy or other word or counting games. You can use car number plates to make words or see if they can find all the letters of the alphabet.
“Sometimes when we really can’t face, or don’t have time for, one type of play, we can suggest another type that feels more manageable. It’s not always necessary to join in all the time. Taking one or two minutes to set your children up, followed by brief moments of positive attention, can keep children focused on an activity for longer periods of time.”
The Time to Play sheet on the Family Links website (familylinks.org.uk/resources-for-parents) offers practical play ideas.