DevelopmentPlay with children – or let children play?

Play with children – or let children play?

This is a question that occupies many parents: how much time and energy do I spend playing with my children, and when do I leave them to their free play? And how do I organise play as a family?

When our children reached the age when they started real role-playing, I was out faster than the Playmobil princess from her carriage. While other parents had fun circling firefighting helicopters over imaginary cliffs and rescuing lost sheep, we were happy to finally have some free time. We only had to sit through a few minutes of nagging before the kids started playing on their own – and after a few more minutes, we and the rest of the world were forgotten. But we did enjoy watching: the dialogues, the imagined worlds, and the sounds the kids made for their vehicles and animals were not only entertaining, but also told us a lot about what was on their minds.

What a change when they became old enough for their first board games

It started with puzzles and little rounds of Memory, but that didn’t really blow me away in my own enjoyment of games. Then came the first card and board games, and the first classics like “Funny Bunny”: rabbits hop over a board with holes that change with every move – now that I could get more into. Here were games where I too was engaged – I wanted to win and got wonderfully annoyed when my rabbits disappeared into the holes. The kids of course also developed the desire to be the first to reach the oversized carrot, and there was trickery, pushing, and gleeful laughter; alliances were forged and dissolved again; people helped and comforted each other. Like real life in rabbit form!

And then of course THE classic game par excellence: “Ludo” or “Parcheesi”. A primary school teacher friend of ours gave us the wise tip that nothing prepares children better for primary school than this age-old, corny and beloved board game: children learn to work with numbers, they train their fingers in fine motor skills and, importantly, they learn to lose. In theory, at least… naturally some of our games ended in tears too. But I think the lesson still stuck over time.

Then we discovered cooperative board games

and had enormous fun with collaborative puzzling, building, and other shared activities. We found a lot to like in these games – even if sometimes we secretly missed the thrill of competition. But everything has its place in family play. Just like free play, which took on other forms over time: more Lego, more Schleich, more drawing. Essential for child development, but still: Mum could not be persuaded to join in.

When our youngest started primary school, a new twist joined our family play: he began to develop his own games

The greatest successes were based on “Angry Birds”. Online games also had their place with the children, of course, albeit only for narrow periods of time. Unchecked, these would have crowded out other games altogether; the temptations of playing on mum’s or dad’s mobile phone or the family tablet are too great. The online game was joined by the Angry Birds films, which were extremely popular in the family, and both together were the inspiration for a brand-new board game of our son’s own devising and for a quartet, which – believe it or not – we still play together from time to time.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised at the enthusiasm that the concept of AVA triggered, especially in my son: the cute figure, the idea of unlimited play worlds. In addition, the combination of tablet play and the pleasure of playing together – my son and his buddies are fully enraptured. They are already bursting with game ideas and can hardly wait to implement them. Just like me, we are eagerly looking forward to this new dimension of family play.

Very young children are a wonderful thing and we enjoyed their time in nursery and kindergarten very much. But I’ve learned that it’s okay not to engage in free role play – and instead to look forward to playing with them what I also enjoy: board games.

What do you think: is engaging in free role play a must for parents in order to be close to their kids? How do you handle the balance between free play and family play? We’d love to know!

About the author

Marion Baumann

Head of MarComs at P-ton AG
“Passionate about Marketing, Communication and PR, and always ready to hear a good story. AND I love to play, preferably with my children, who don't always manage to beat me in Memory.“

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