Children And Play In The Time Of Lockdown

During these times of uncertainty, it’s important to encourage and support your child’s play. Here are 10 ways to provide open-ended and inviting play environments for your child during the lockdown.

By Divya Badami Rao  • 10 min read

Children And Play In The Time Of Lockdown

COVID-19 is currently dictating all aspects of our lives. Due to the lockdown, parents are busier than usual, working from home, doing the housework, and balancing the expectations of home-schooling. One helpful way parents can manage their own stress and their children’s is simply to let children play more. With all the uncertainty surrounding us, both parents and children could benefit through playtime. Playing makes the day better, and provides invaluable stress relief without the suffocating expectation of externally imposed ideas of productivity.

Play and boredom

Given their current restricted mobility, children will most likely feel energetic or bored in waves. When boredom hits, they find things to do, and when they rest, boredom hits and the cycle repeats itself. While this is true in the span of a single day, in my experience so far, this also applies to a series of days. Left to their own devices, children are largely able to spend their days without the onset of a sense of definitive boredom, simply because they are able to play. In a state of play, children look after themselves, and look out for themselves. On some days children can be fully engaged, absorbed in their play for long stretches of time. Other days can be comparatively dull, with less play and more boredom.

The value of play for children's learning

As several play theorists have noted, play is not frivolous. It is not something children need to do to merely pass time. Play is a journey of self-discovery that is biologically driven, and intrinsically motivated. Time, space and permission are the three important conditions that need to be met for children to play to their satisfaction. When these conditions are met, children unlock their minds, bodies and souls to their ideas and their imaginations. They know exactly what to do, and how they want to do it. If they are in control, they are able to express what is important to them at the moment, and they know, intuitively, when they want or need to stop. As parents, as we move through exhausting and stressful days of work-from-home and housework, we need to remember this, even if the urge to control our children’s play kicks in.

10 ideas to support your kids' play

Children do not need their parents to play with them at all times, and neither do they need to be constantly fed with ideas and activities. You can, however, support their play by providing varied, open-ended and inviting play environments that will serve to enrich their experience. Avoid stepping in into their play. Join them if they invite you to do so. 

Here are some ideas to create such environments, suitable for the indoors using materials that are most likely available at home. These ideas are meant to be suggestive. You can mix, match and extend any of these ideas. The goal here is to inspire and sustain your children at play by providing them with additional tools that will allow their imaginations to be as expansive as possible, even as they are stuck indoors.

  1. Pull out an old, empty suitcase, and leave it lying around. Your child is likely to team it up with a selection of existing toys, thus adding a breath of fresh air to some old familiar play; or he may find new ways to play with it.
  2. If you have balcony space and a few pots, allocate at least one pot of mud for play. If you have a private garden, that’s even better. A combination of forks, spoons, ladles and vessels from your kitchen will make great accompaniments. There’s nothing like feeling the earth between your fingers when you have restricted access to the outdoors.
  3. Extend your children’s bath-time to allow for some water play. Include funnels from the kitchen, empty shampoo bottles to squirt water, a colander, a few containers, and a limited amount of water for some light-hearted fun.
  4. Scavenge for junk, cardboard boxes in particular. Large and extra-large cardboard boxes may transform themselves into a spacecraft or fire-engine in your child’s imagination, or may even be a prop as part of an obstacle course they set up. However, smaller boxes, tin cans, disposable containers and bottles and bottlecaps, pens that don’t work, extra buttons, beads and so on, together with glue and tape or duct tape, can lead to fanciful models or contraptions - from a dollhouse to an invisible-ray machine. Craft supplies such as pipe-cleaners, pompoms, popsicle-sticks, yarn and stickers also serve to embellish your child’s imaginative creations.
  5. Spare some pillows, bedsheets and dupattas for some literal castles in the air, also described as dens, forts or tents. The structure will demand some chairs, sofas and clothespins at the very least, but rope might be a fun addition too!
  6. Put out a selection of hats, scarfs, ties, hangers, baskets, aprons, kitchen gloves, sunglasses, briefcase and other such accessories that lend themselves to dressing-up. It’s good to dress up, even if there is nowhere to go!
  7. Make a surprise addition of a torch to your child’s playthings. You may inspire a detective in the making, or simply shadow play.
  8. Bring out all the excess birthday party supplies you’re hoarding at the back of your cupboard. Balloons, streamers, paper plates and cups, masks and party hats have immense play value, and can be used in many different ways. You can also bring out excess rangoli powder, Christmas decorations and the twinkling fairy lights to create festive and fresh play experiences.
  9. Upturned buckets, stools, vessels and small tables make for delightful percussion instruments. Cardboard tubes and rubber tubes make fun voice-changers.
  10. Stationery is an old-time classic. Basic art supplies like paper, pencils, crayons, markers, paints and chalk are all very satisfying play experiences for many children. A fork as a scratch tool, or a mortar and pestle to powder chalk or crayon before use, may also lead to some exciting artistic adventures.

As parents, we should be supporting our children’s play now more than ever. We need to accept how they play, without judgement - whether it means putting up with the noisy ruckus in the corridors, or the quiet, but messy play extending into the living room. 

As your children play, they will be happier, healthier, and better able to navigate the constrictions of the present moment. The way our children play (or don’t-play) will shape their experiences and memories of this period.

Also read:  Coronavirus: How Children Play It Out

About the author:

Written by Divya Badami Rao on 21 April 2020.

Divya Badami Rao holds a Masters Degree in Social Work and has worked for several years in the development sector. A parent herself, her recent academic interest revolves around the importance of play in children. She can be reached at di.badamirao@gmail.com.

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