Ideas for Playing at Home

Published on: March 17, 2021

Suzi has simple but fun activities for home play and also for some quality play time with you!

By: Suzi Chaemchaeng

The challenge of online learning or just being at home when you have young children can be overwhelming. There are negative feelings that prick your heart with guilt if they are staring at screens more than usual. 

My daughter who is still at an age of believing everything I say checked her eyes in the mirror recently when I told her they may go square. On that occasion, this horrifying statement helped pry her off our tablet, but commonly it takes so much to convince her to come away from the screen and her mood is dreadful when she does.

Over the years of parenting and teaching in the Early Years, I have found certain activities will always engage young children. Fortunately, these activities also have great learning outcomes and potential for exploration, imaginative play and conversation. This can really help in these tricky times. 

Play dough

In my classroom and at home there is always play dough on the go. A school I taught at in London years ago always made their own and I felt outraged, how could I possibly find the time? I am now convinced it is the easiest and best resource for children of any age!  

Here in Thailand, we can get incredible food colouring too. Just avoid getting it on your hands as it may not come off for a few days or weeks!

My recipe is simple:

  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Oil
  • Warm Water
  • Hair conditioner and food colouring (optional)

Method

I do not measure anything so this is a ‘never fail’ recipe!

  1. Add an equal amount of flour and salt to a bowl. Use anything to measure, I use a cup or my hands.
  2. Mix warm water and oil together. Encourage your child to get their hands in the flour and salt mixture. 
  3. Add the water and oil mixture in gradually. Get messy, it is ok as flour cleans up easily. Children need to get messy and explore, this is an important part of learning.

When making play dough becomes second nature it is easy to tell when the dough has formed but as long as you combine the ingredients gradually you won’t get it wrong. 

If it is too sticky, sprinkle flour on a table and roll it out. 

The hair conditioner (adds a nice smell and makes a smooth texture) and the food colouring can be added at any time. 

Resources to use with play dough

  • Pans, spoons, cups, plates, blunt knives, candles and pots help to create imaginative role play activities, birthday cakes and pretend food.  
  • Scissors are great for fine motor skills in preparation for writing skills. 
  • Use straws, sticks, stones or anything to push and make patterns into the dough.

Duplo and Lego

Lego is a big part of play in our home. I grew up creating houses and spaceships with my brothers and have fond memories of the red Lego basket. Lego kits are more advanced now and offer a great way to sit with your child and support their learning. They also test your ability to follow instructions and not get distracted. For very young kids you can start with Duplo and then move to the ‘good old fashioned’ Lego. We have both at home, and together have created houses, mazes and car parks. 

Resources to use with Lego

  • Little people and animal figurines can support Lego play and increase pretend play opportunities. 
  • Cars for car parks.

Water play

This is always a winner. Children love water; baths, swimming pools and the sea. Water can open a world of exploration for a child. Even offering the smallest bucket on your bathroom floor or balcony can offer hours of play. I have never bought bath toys, preferring found, everyday objects that offer more quality play.

Resources to use with water

  • Pots and cups to fill, pour and transfer.
  • Funnels or colanders from the kitchen to watch the water pouring.
  • Small world toys with an aquatic theme like fish and sharks or any animal, let’s not be fussy here.
  • Bottles with screw tops are great for fine motor skill development.
  • Bottle plungers from used bottles are an excellent strengthening practise for small hands. 
  • Bubbles from any bathroom products.
  • Water beads are great (if you are concerned about environmental damage use basil seeds, they are a wonderful, smooth and have a moreish texture to run little hands in)
  • A paintbrush to make strokes on floors and walls.
  • Chalk which dissolves in water but also creates rich colours for drawing on washable surfaces.

Other home play tips

Special Time: A term used by Janet Lansbury. I always advise parents of the children about what I teach and do with my own child after school. This is a time for connection. It is an allotted period of time to be truly present, even for just 10 minutes.  Ask your child what do you want to do? Explain the time frame and put your phone away. 

After the time has finished there can sometimes be some upset. I offer my child empathy; “I know you really enjoyed our playtime, I did too. I wish we could play like this all evening but Mummy needs to make dinner.” This upset can offer a space for cuddles, connection and understanding. At times exploring these feelings can be more valuable than the play, especially after a busy day for your child. I find if I do Special Time, the connection can help increase more independent play after. 

Board and card games (we love UNO): These are great ways to navigate feelings around winning and losing. They are always a good for passing the time and offer a more constructive way to play for parents who find pretend play hard.

Cooking a Healthy No-Bake Recipe:
Stuff Dates with peanut butter.
Dip in dark chocolate and then put in the freezer.

Grow a Mung bean: I have done this recently at school with amazing results, they can grow anywhere and give instant growing results. Lots of conversation and understanding of growth.

Lastly, take the pressure off. If you all survive the day healthy and happy then you have done your best. 

I had a motto in our deep lockdown times:
One structured activity, one walk, one free play, lots of nice food, and a sprinkling of screen time every day, and we will be ok. 

About the Author

Suzi is a born Londoner with an Irish heritage. She is a teacher and has taught yoga, exercise and now Early Years. She works in Phuket, where she lives with her child and husband of 10 years. They met on Koh Lanta, and have lived on and off in Thailand since. Contact her on IG: @suzi_cc_  


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