As parents all know: daily schedules can get dicey.
Whether you work outside the home or at home, many days can become overrun with responsibilities — work deadlines, shuttling kids to activities, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and homework. An entire day can go by, and you realize you didn't really get a chance to play or connect on-on-one with your kids.
That certainly happens in our house at times. Sometimes it's just hard to work playtime in. But I usually find whenever I can manage to sneak even 15 minutes of true playtime in with my three boys — whether structured or silly — we all feel rejuvenated.
It's a constant struggle, this work/life balance thing — even for moms like me, who work primarily from home. (Sometimes you really do have to say no to requests for Candy Land or bike rides because there's dinner to make or laundry to fold.)
I don't by any means have all the answers, but here are five tips for integrating playtime that have worked for my family. And I hope a few may work for yours, too.
1. Make the most of downtime. Whether it's in the car or while you're waiting for your food at a sit-down restaurant, make the most of those minutes where you're together with no other demands on your time. Our boys love playing guessing games, similar to 20 questions, which begin with clues like, “I'm thinking of an animal that lives in the sea and has 8 legs” or “I'm thinking of a Disney character who has a pet reindeer.” The clues can get harder and more involved, the older your kids are. Even our 11-year-old still enjoys playing, and thanks to fun kids nature shows like Wild Kratts, my 5-year-old can make up clues about exotic animals that stump me every time.
2. Find activities that appeal to multiple ages. Whenever you find a single activity that can equally engage an 11-, 8- and 5-year-old, you feel like you've found the parenting Holy Grail. One idea for weekends or summer days together: Have your kids create their own short “movie” using stuffed animals or super hero toys. Let the youngest kids choose the characters and the basic story plot. Middle children can be in charge of “set design” (drawing or creating the background and props), while the oldest is the “cinematographer” who films the story on a smart phone or home movie camera. But those projects where everyone feels they have their own, important role seem to work best. The best part: The parent's job in this kind of playtime is just to be there, ready to laugh and watch your kids' creativity shine — and maybe fill in as a background actor, when needed.
3. Simple crafts can be big hits. Crafts are another way to appeal to kids of all ages. Even something as simple as tie-died art using white circular coffee filters, markers and a water-spray bottle can be fun for the whole family. Play-Doh “cooking” time and “circus animal making” time were other big hits in our house, especially when my boys were smaller.
4. Turn chores into a game. Even clean-up can be fun, if you set a timer and give each child a clothes basket with the challenge of seeing who can put the most items away in five minutes.
5. Outside time is always playtime. Sometimes working playtime in just requires stepping outside for a few minutes together in your own yard. Whether it's tossing a baseball, kicking a soccer ball together or even shooting some hoops, playtime doesn't have to be elaborate or come with a lot of rules. It's just about being together — and having fun!