5 Ways To Add Structure To Your Play (...but not be ruled by it!)

5 Ways To Add Structure To Your Play (...but not be ruled by it!)

5 Ways To Add Structure To Your Play (...but not be ruled by it!)

Whether you find yourself self isolating at home with the family or simply want to add more structure to your Saturdays, a little routine can help to keep your day varied and ensure you and the minis get the most out of your time together.

I spoke to Child, Adolescent and Educational Psychologist Dr Sally Swift about why we often crave structure at times like these and how to achieve it,  but not be ruled by it.

Sally told us "Structure and routine is important during this time not just for our children but for us too. We all thrive on routine so that we know what is happening next, there is some rhythm to our day, control and meaning. At a time of much uncertainty, feelings of a lack of control increase and this makes us feel emotionally unstable as we try to claw back some control, and seek meaning about what is happening around us."

"Some structure ... gives us all a sense of achievement"

By adding even a little structure and routine to our daily lives at home in the months ahead it will give everyone in the family a focus, help to prevent things becoming too chaotic, and most importantly give both us and the children a sense of accomplishment. Sally explains "That sense of achievement is so important for children, especially if they can see themselves completing an activity or task on the timetable and fulfilling an action to signal that they have completed it such as putting a tick or sticker against it, colouring it in or removing the task from the planner and putting it into a bag." 

We couldn't resist asking Sally for her top 5 tips for introducing a little sanity-saving structure to your days at home over the coming months... whilst also leaving room for spontaneous fun!  

  • Create a Timetable

First stop...make a plan. With your children’s input, create a timetable for your day and keep roughly the same structure each day. It is important to review the activities you have done and get the children to rate it, even with either a simple happy or sad face, so you can learn what they are enjoying and what they’re not. This shows them firstly that you believe their feelings matter and you are collaborating with them, and secondly allows you to better shape and plan future play activities.
Twinkl have a range of templates or have fun creating your own as a family! Include mealtimes, play, learning activities for older children or learning through play for younger ones, and time outdoors. Even the attention span of older school age children will still be relatively short. In this case allow for 15-20 minutes of learning sandwiched with playtime - outdoors if possible - either side.
  • Embrace The Chaos ...!

We know it's hard but try to accept house will be more of a mess since you’re all at home and let this go as much as you can. Do schedule in a tidy break before or after lunch and at the end of the day on your timetable though. A favourite song can help to get everyone motivated and you can keep the same tune each time for consistency so they become familiar with “the tidy up song”.
  • Find Ideas Online

There are so many resources for this online and on social media starting with The Mama Brown & Co online magazine with useful articles like 5 Ways To Burn Off Their Energy Indoors and 5 Ways To Practice Mindfulness While They Play. Some of our other favourites are Play Hooray for play ideas which involve household items (remember to wash out and save all your packaging) The Artful Parent for arts and crafts inspiration, Mother Could and Emma at The Playful Den who encourages us all to live more playfully. 

  • Acknowledge Your Feelings

Children will mirror our behaviour... so if you blow they blow. It is really important for us to tune into ourselves and recognise the need for a break. Try and avoid the blow up before you get there.

When the kids are having some down time or screen time have a break yourself - have a cuppa, put your feet up. It’s important for our emotional well-being and sanity! If you have a partner at home, perhaps have a code word you say to each other that allows you to recognise that the other might need a break. Team work will get us through this new normal so tune in, be kind, check in with each other as well as with the children about how you’re feeling, and acknowledge everyone's feelings, including your own.  

  • Screen Time Boundaries

Let's be honest, we're all going to need to reach for a screen at times and that's ok! Just make sure you have some boundaries - schedule it into the day but also be realistic and use it when you need to if you need a break or you feel like your head is at full capacity. When you don't need the screens turn them off. Instead put some calm music on while children are playing, try classical or relaxing piano music in the background. Have the radio on low for some background noise... and an impromptu disco when you’re favourite song comes on!

"Sometimes spontaneity is what is needed"

With all these ideas up your sleeve, remember that whilst having a schedule is helpful, it's also important to not be ruled by it. Sally tells us "Don't give yourself a hard time if on some mornings, afternoons, days the schedule does not go to plan... that's ok. We are all human, and what is most important for our children is love, time and connection."

Sometimes the most playful and exciting adventures need an element of spontaneity. If your toddler wants to run around naked all day, then let them! Try and have fun, be silly with your children (perhaps not the running round naked bit...but each to their own), encourage laughter, be a kid again. Let's use this extra time we've been given to reconnect with each other without the pressures of work and daily life, and there will be lots of positives in this for us and our children.

You can find a host of visual timetable templates here on Twinkl along with a range of additional activity cards here. They are also offering parents a one month subscription for free to support everyone through the school closures.

Discover more play and learning ideas on our online magazine and Instagram or shop play & learning tools from a host of small businesses in our store.