This week’s intentional parenting moment: Life is Your Playground. Play more. Be playful. Get in the game. To read more intentions please go here.

There’s a lot of research on why you should play with your kids.

There’s even more research on why you shouldn’t.

Without getting into the theory of either, Awesomely Awake, as always, will take the middle way, the middle approach.

Play, for us, is about connections and creativity. It’s about finding ways to learn with each other and from each other. We’re about letting the kids do their thing but remain close, and engage often but not in a hovering kind of way. Our community of parents know that freedom for children is essential but understand, too, the importance of being together and connecting as a family.

So, what if you can’t stand playing with your kids? What if playing is boring? What if you don’t know how to play with your kids? What if you’re hardly around and play is hard for you to transition into?

You are in luck. You can engage, be playful and connect with very little effort. I would even argue you can play without really playing, most of the time. In fact, you are probably already doing a ton of play as it is.

{Disclaimer: This list doesn’t mean your day as a parent will be easier. You still have to be the parent, which is hard work.}

Without further ado, here are the 15 Ways to Play as a Family:

PLAY BY ASKING QUESTIONS: Maybe you’re tired. Maybe you’ve had a long day. Maybe the kids didn’t sleep well, again. Whatever the reason, the best way to play is to sit nearby or play alongside just by asking questions. Engage their minds, their spirits. Get them thinking differently. Get them wondering. Ask questions like Who is this you are playing with? What is happening here? Introduce new perspectives to what they are already playing simply by asking them — not telling them.

SET UP IMAGINARY PLAY: At our house, we have{ tried} moved all toys upstairs and left only the favorites {a wooden castle and several princess figurines} and a blank table downstairs where we spend most of our time. Each week I set up what we call a center on the table. The centers are usually an idea that I’ve picked up on from my children’s interests that week. For instance, they were playing restaurant so I set up a table with everything they need to play restaurant including blank paper checks and menus so they could practice writing . We’ve also done libraries, stores, bakeries and, currently, a beauty salon. You don’t need anything fancy or new for these centers. You can look around your house and find things that fit a theme and use those. It’s better that way. Your job here is to let them guide you as either a customer, if they wish. Otherwise, grab a chair and watch.

BE THE MEAN GUY: I know this is kind of funny but when I really don’t feel like playing but I want to play anyway, I try to be the meanest or silliest or most outrageous character I can think of so that it makes the biggest impact. Sometimes, I’m the wicked step-mother making them clean the castle. {this works!} Sometimes I’m the picky customer at the pretend shop. Sometimes I’m the bad monster fighting the castle. All of these allow for modeling and practicing cruel or mean behavior they may encounter in real life anyway so it’s a learning moment as well.

MOVE THINGS AROUND: I get most inspired to play during a massive cleaning and rearranging effort in any room. This could be their bedrooms, their playroom or a living room. Whenever we look at a room from a new perspective, all of our minds just start going crazy with possibilities. Usually, I clean and find a few things we all were missing and then we all just feel renewed and reenergized to play together.

FOLLOW THEIR LEAD: When my girls were little, I gave them things to do. I do much less of that now and rather follow their directions of what they want to do. This fosters their independence and creativity. During play time, if they ask me to play Cat in the Hat, that’s what we’ll do. If they want to paint, we’ll paint. If they want to go outside, I go outside. I do surprise them rather often with fun things I’ve planned as well. They still love it — they still value my ideas as well.

BE OPEN TO PLAY: The biggest hurdle parents face with playing with their children is their inability to want to stop what they are doing to play. Funny, isn’t it? I mean, we are not happy when our children get upset with us when we tear them away to do adult things but there we go getting upset when we are torn torn from our adult things to do their childish things. Ironic, yes? Be open to play at certain times in the day or evenings. Allow your mind time to transition. Say to your child, give me five minutes and in that time prepare your mind to play. I mean really play. {See above}.

FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU LOVE: Ask me and I’ll know what I love to play and what I hate to play. Imaginary play is hard for me these days. I’ll do it, but it’s not my favorite. However, doing art, building forts or blocks, setting up special activities, learning activities that are fun, science experiements — all things I love to do. Be open and tell your child the things you love to do but also be willing to try new things and model that sometimes we do have to do things we don’t like in life.

DON’T PLAY: There are so many ways to engage and connect that are fun. Cooking. Baking. Even cleaning together can be fun. Taking rides. Chasing each other. Tickling. Snuggling. Games. What else are you doing? Take notice and be proud!! Get more great ideas on how to sneak in family time here.

BE PLAYFUL ALL THE TIME: If you are being fun and playful throughout the day, then you are playing. Juggle apples at breakfast and drop them. Tell jokes. Make your kids laugh. If it’s hard for your child to meet your eyes or laugh with you, then you need to lighten up. The most important thing you can do for your child is look them in the eyes and tell them they are amazing, that they have good ideas and that you see them. If that’s all you can do today, it’s enough. You are doing enough.

JUST BE THERE: There’s a little ol’ post on this site called 25 Ways to Just Be with Your Children where you can get a lot more ideas, too.

MOVE ROOMS: Mix it up. If you are bored in the living room, move to the dining room and throw a blanket over the table and make a quick fort. Hide in it. Sleep in it. Do what you need to do to be a part of the action.

ASK THEM TO PERFORM: Ask your kids to show you something they’ve learned in gym class, soccer practice, dance class, preschool, or in our case, yoga class. Ask them to show you a thing or two. Encourage them to demonstrate and perform. No need to praise with anything more than a smile or laughter. Praise them for being brave to demonstrate. Join in on the fun. Show them a move or two. {Don’t hurt yourself!}

MAKING MORNINGS FUN: There’s nothing worse than a hectic, grouchy, stress-filled morning of rushing around. Play music. Dance. Tell stories on the way to the bus stop or in the car on the way to school. Search for pink skies, signs of spring, things in the landscape that have changed. Engage their minds in something other than rush, rush, rush. Get playful and I promise the mornings will get easier. They will enjoy getting out of bed. They will skip off to school with a smile. Of course, you still have to keep them on task but stress playtime, too. In our house, the sooner you are ready for school the more time there is for play.

BE SILLY: Simply being silly is the funniest kind of play. Awesomely Awake Dad works a lot but when he’s home, he’s {usually} found making the kids laugh by doing the weirdest things. This is his kind of play and it works. Why just this week he was trying to get dressed and kept putting his clothes on wrong. I thought the girls were going to die of laughter. Make funny faces. Tell silly, far-out stories that just don’t make sense. These are the things our kids love the most about our days — you can just tell. If you have teenagers, I imagine this sort of thing is only appropriate when in the comfort of your own home and no one else is around. That’s cool, too. But they need light moments just as much as the younger children – perhaps more!

DO NOTHING TOGETHER: I have said this a million times and the more I’m on Pinterest these days the more I have to say it again and again. It’s perfectly fine to do nothing with your kids. Just hanging out. It’s great to do less. Great things come from boredom. It’s OK to not teach your kids something today. It’s OK to do what comes naturally for your family to relax, de-stress and recharge. Sometimes — well, often! — we all need that. It’s OK. Our family’s best moments happen piled on the couch together after dinner, giggling.

There you have it. Another list of my inner most secrets. What are your playful tips? How do you inspire yourself to play? How do you stop to just have fun? On Friday, I’m going to host my first blog link up party so come prepared to link up and share your own amazing playful family posts. Till then …

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