featured play

Stand for Play

Tracking PixelThis post is sponsored by Toca Boca.

There’s a little play kitchen in Nella’s classroom, tucked next to the crate of baby dolls, on the other side of the shelf with the cars and the train tracks and the bristle blocks that interlock when pushed together. Labels on neatly organized bins identify where the puzzles go–right next to the Lincoln logs and two bins down from the Barbies. And while, yes, bulletin boards show off the latest projects that illustrate learning goals like counting and letter recognition, one of my favorite things about Nella’s school is its celebration of the colorful art of PLAY, a vital subject matter that often fades when little preschool bags switch to kindergarten backpacks. For all the structured learning and educational standards that will accompany the many years ahead for my children, please let there be complementing creative cushions of open-ended play.

When Toca Boca asked if I’d help them spread their simple message of “Take a Stand for Play” by talking about the importance of playtime to our family, I thought, “This will be eeeaaaaazy!” I could march on the White House steps, picketing for play, no problem. I value a childhood that celebrated it and parents that gave us plenty of time to give our brains opportunities to balance school and extracurricular responsibilities with no-rules play. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have so many memories of riding Big Wheels in my grandparents’ driveway; or playing Olympics with my cousins in our back yard; or hiding under the bed–heart pounding–waiting for my brother, “the robber”, to find us; or my favorite–hour upon hour of rocking baby dolls, calling them “Honey” and packing doll clothes in “diaper bag” purses while we played House. Talk about life preparation.

It is alarming to see how much more pressure kids face today and not surprising to learn that kids have lost 12 hours of playtime a week since their parents (that’s us!) were kids. With testing goals and school standards and college entrance requirements, we–without even realizing it–often pressure ourselves to make sure every game our kids play, every show they watch, every snack they eat, every encounter they experience is tied to reading and math goals, or else we think it doesn’t count. I love finding new ways where we can incorporate educational goals into real world experience for our kids, but unstructured play is a learning experience in itself (it counts!), and I want my kids to always know the joy of play, no strings attached.

Use your imagination, play as you wish, be creative, have fun!

 photo play 5_zpsx50cqbpa.jpg

 photo play 7_zpsipaxjcvx.jpg

Some of our favorite play time activities at home that work for all three of my kids’s ages:

1) Play Store
Go to your pantry and pull out a bunch of canned goods, some cereal boxes, those little seasoning packets you forgot were tucked in that basket on the back of the shelf. Line them up on the coffee table and end tables and shelves in the living room. This is your store. Dig out some play Monopoly money (I’d tell you to play that too, but maybe you don’t have the next 9 hours free). Stuff the money in an old wallet for the “shopper.” Set up a calculator for the “cashier” and some paper bags for bagging groceries. Use a basket to go shopping and take turns with your kids playing the “shopper” and the “cashier.” Every time we play this, my kids never want to stop. They love it.

2) Lava Stones
An oldie but a goodie. Gather all the pillows and couch cushions in the house–don’t worry, you’ll put them back later. Spread them out like stepping stones, making a long winding path throughout the house. The floor is lava. Now hop to your destination without falling in the volcano. Include itty bitty pillows that make balancing on them difficult for more fun.

3) Bus Driver
Line up rows of chairs to make a bus. One person gets to drive it (plastic plates make great steering wheels), and everybody else hands over their change to ride it. The fun comes when the bus driver asks where he can take you. Grandma’s house! Chuckee Cheese, please! Hawaii! Target to buy some Shopkins! So many options.

This February, Toca Boca is asking parents to take a stand for play. Parents can visit www.standforplay.com to learn about the state of play in America, spread the word and sign up to receive a free poster. The back of each poster is a blank canvas–we had fun decorating ours…

 photo play 1_zps1lzzesys.jpg

 photo play 2_zps5g4qy1wa.jpg

 photo play 8_zpsjrlttmc9.jpg

The first 2,000 parents to visit the site have the chance to exchange a Facebook share for a FREE “Take a Stand for Play” poster that will be shipped to them. Posters will come in a tube, along with stickers and more info. Share your poster on your social media feeds with #standforplay to be featured on Toca Boca’s site.

 photo play 10_zpsvqabaoks.jpg

 photo play 6_zpsvnobieu5.jpg

Everybody knows what happens to Jack when it’s all work and no play, and we don’t do dull here. Add interest, color, creativity, happiness, potential…stand for play.


Leave a Comment
  1. This is a very timely post for me. Our elementary school cut our kids’ recesses from two a day to one 20-minute recess a day. Apparently they were disappointed with test score results, so the principal decided that more class time was the answer. The result has been some stir-crazy kids and frustrated teachers that have a hard time keeping kindergartners on task without a break.
    Play is supremely important. It not only enhances creativity, but think of all the social skills our kids are missing out on. They are already distracted by devices way too often; taking away scheduled time for play seems detrimental to me.

    If you have any information on the statistics of how lack of play affects our kids, I’d be very interested.

  2. I love this movement! Although if I think too much about it, it makes me a little sad to think that their needs to be a campaign to let kids play. I too can remember myself and my 2 sisters coming up with the most bizarre games to play when we were kids (let’s just say one involved us calling ourselves the potty sisters and imagining we were accidentally flushed down the toilet).

    So much pressure is put on kids to play musical instruments, learn second languages, read at a young age, etc. I can see why helping form their minds is a great idea but I think it has to be balanced out with just letting them be little. Using their imagination and resources around them goes a long way to helping them become creative and resourceful when they are older.

    There is plenty of time for homework later! Let them play!


  3. Sammie Krieg says:

    I really love this post. I work at an Early Head Start Center as an Education & Disabilities Coordinator, and I cannot tell you how tired I get of hearing about “meeting school readiness goals”…All of my kiddos are under the age of 3 – they don’t need to be ready for school yet…they need to play and dance and give and get hugs…School will be ready for them when it’s time….In the meantime, we learn through play, the same way they did before there was a such thing as “No Child Left Behind” or “Common Core”…I think we’ll all turn out just fine….

    Also, I have to tell you that your pictures of Nella made me miss a certain kiddo I used to teach in my center…I had to pop into her classroom today to see that beautiful face and get one of her hugs – she hugs tighter than most adults I know, and nothing fills your cup quite like it…

  4. I am from India. We had less and less play time as we grew up. I think from 8th grade, we basically had really no play time and much more of just structured learning.Honestly we even picked what we studied based on a ranking system and just the best school you could get into and the coursework based on which leads to most lucrative jobs- this leads to getting into jobs which are great but you never feel satisfied in. From first hand experience it puts you in good jobs in a competitive environment, but it definitely impacts creative thinking, problem solving skills. It is not a good environment to grow up in and I strongly support this initiative. Of course you need a balance, i think finding a middle ground is a good idea.When i came to the United States to study and saw people here came up with crazy innovative ideas- it always amazed me- how much that is encouraged here.If you truly want leaders and not just followers then you need to encourage imagination and creativity, while you balance out structured learning and academics.

  5. I just went to a professional development day based on Play and Brain development (which as an early childhood teacher I was extremely grateful for). For you data geeks out there here are some of the resources she cited:
    Montgomery 2014
    Bekoff, 2001
    Siviy and Panksepp, 2011
    Lewis and Barton, 2006
    Pellis and Iwaniuk, 2000
    Burghardt, 2005, 2011
    The presenter was Gretchen Dahl Reeves, PHD from Eastern Michigan University and she said when she went to start researching about the importance of play for herself she was quite impressed with the facts that are out there. Of course all of the teachers in her audience agreed with everything she said.
    Now we need to get the “powers that be” to listen….oh if only the money that just went into the Super Bowl could just be matched with money spent educating people about how important it is to play!!!

  6. This is good. I read an article recently that linked over scheduling of ‘fun’ activities and classes to depression in children. I laughed and thought, “Well I grew up so far in the country, I was too far away from any class, league or scheduled activity, all I did was wander around the woods and play, and I was never depressed.) Although I do remember some serious boredom. But I think boredom is important too…cause it forces you to dig deeper into your imagination. okay. love you. – M

  7. I truly love this. It is a subject near and dear to my heart, and something that my husband and I don’t really see eye to eye on. Colorado is a state that doesn’t require children to go to kindergarten and have often thought about keeping them home an extra year because of the lack of playtime. What are your thought ladies????

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>