As a parent you are your child’s first educator, a role that has never been more important – or difficult – than it is now.
It’s likely that your child will not have been at nursery or school for more than two months and, although settings are starting to reopen, you may not be able to send your child back or may choose to keep them at home. It could feel like the days and weeks are dauntingly stretching out ahead of you and that you’re running out of ways to keep your child entertained, especially if you are also trying to work.
Instead of being consumed with guilt or anxiety, try to take a step back and think about ways that you can ‘buy’ yourself time while your child is playing.
Consider how you allow your child to play. Do you suggest things to do and take the lead or step back and let them follow their own fascinations? A child will become more engaged in their play if they are doing something that interests them. Not only that, but they will also learn more. Play that is child-led helps them to become more self-reliant, creative, imaginative and helps to develop their thinking skills.
The aim is for your child to become engaged in play so try to stop yourself from inhibiting their play by giving lots of praise or suggestions and take a step back. Bear in mind that some children struggle to immerse themselves in play if you are not nearby so try to be within sight as you to catch up on emails, do chores or simply put your feet up.
Toys and resources
Support your child to play independently by giving them the right ‘tools’. You don’t want your living room to look like a toy shop. In fact, too many toys can be overwhelming for a child.
Think about toys that provide the most play and learning potential. Surprisingly, rather than the battery-operated flashing and noisy toys, open-ended resources offer more opportunities for engrossed play.
Take yourself back to your nursery days and think about the hours of fun that you had with simple items often found around the house, such as a box. Combine it with more recycled materials and your child’s favourite dinosaur figures, vehicles or dolls and the opportunities are endless. Simple wooden blocks, mark making materials like pencils and paper and ‘malleable’ resources such as playdough can also be enthusiastically used by children to create their own fascinating scenarios if they are given the time and space to explore.
Toys need to be stored within reach so that your child can play independently with them and follow their interests. Take a tip from nurseries and put simple picture labels on boxes so that your child can see what is inside without tipping everything out (although you’ll have to resign yourself to that happening sometimes too).
To be kind to yourself and your child, you need to accept that there are some days that your child needs some inspiration or wants you to join in with their play. Also, don’t feel guilty if screen time is the only option. If a TV is always on in the background then your child is unlikely to settle to either watch or play but used sparingly it is a sanity saver for everyone.
Mother of two Daisy Upton (aka Five Minute Mum) has drawn on her early years education training to invent a plethora of activities that she can fall back on to keep her young children entertained when she needs some time to herself. These have been especially tested during lockdown.
The activities, which have now been compiled into a recipe-style book, can all be set up and put away in five minutes and use resources that are easily found around the home – how about wrapping little toys in newspaper for them to be explored, or creating lounge mini golf with a small ball, cup and stick?
‘My golden rule is that if I set out an activity and let the children find it then they will come to it when they decide to,’ she says. ‘It needs to be completely child-led because while some days they are tired and lethargic on others they are full of beans and so I go with what they want.’
Daisy strongly believes that the best way for a child to learn is through play. ‘If my children are not smiling and happy when we are doing an activity then we stop. You do not have to continue if it is not fun. If they are happy then they can learn at the same time,’ she says.
‘For parents at this time, especially those who are working, they are under so much pressure and wearing so many hats. Anything that can take the pressure off is a huge help and stops us from feeling bad.’
Five Minute Mum: Give Me Five by Daisy Upton, containing 150 games and activities, is published by Penguin (£14.99).