So Many Options Yet I Don’t Know What to Do

Parenting is hard. So when we try something that works, we should share. This week I thought I would share a successful parenting experience that occurred in my family this weekend in this spirit of sharing and giving parents another tool in the “parenting toolbox.”

I brought my seven-year-old twins to WES with me on Saturday as I had some work to do. I told them beforehand that they could play in the gym while I worked in my office. We brought a basketball, a soccer ball, and a football as both boys enjoy these sports very much. When we arrived at school I turned the lights on in the gym and thought to myself how lucky these two were as they have a big beautiful gym all to themselves–something my siblings and I would have relished as children. As I began my work, Jace and Trey came to my office and looked blankly at me; it had been seven minutes. When I asked them what was up, they replied, “We don’t know what to do.” Baffled and bewildered, I swallowed the words that wanted to escape my mouth, and I racked my brain for ideas of how to get them back into the gym to play.

I had an idea. I gave each of them a piece of paper and a pencil and told them to have a seat at the table and to write down twenty things they could do with a gym and various balls. Fifteen minutes later they were finished with their lists, and I asked them to compare their lists and identify which activities they wrote down that were the same or at least similar. They had 12 similar activities including dodgeball, handball, obstacle course race, and a human version of LEGO Marvel. After a brief conversation about a few of the activities and how to play them, they went back to the gym with their lists in hand. About an hour later, I went down to check on them and found them happy and engaged. The simple act of having them take some time to thoughtfully think about what they wanted to do increased their engagement and creativity.

This concept is not new, and I am certainly not a pioneer. Teachers use a similar concept in their classrooms called Play Planning. According to “Tools of the Mind,” Play Planning is when children purposefully plan their play before actually playing. In the classroom it usually occurs before center time or recess and often involves imaginary or make-believe play. This purposeful act of planning helps children develop their organizational and collaborative skills as well as their self-control. It also gives children power and ownership over their decisions which then builds their confidence too. So if you ever find yourself in a situation where an activity is not keeping your children’s attention for very long, perhaps hit the pause button and ask them to think through what their play might look like. You may be surprised by how creative the ideas can get!