Leigh-Anne Stradeski

By Leigh-Anne Stradeski, Chief Executive of Eureka! The National Children’s Museum

For the past 20 years we’ve been providing fantastic play and learning experiences for children in Calderdale, Yorkshire and the whole of the UK. Over the years, we’ve learned a great deal about the fascinating subject of play and built up a fantastic team of experts who know why it’s so important for children to play and how significant the benefits can be when families play together.

What we’ve also learned is that although play is as natural and spontaneous as breathing for children, this isn’t always the case with the grownups in their lives and as adults we often lose touch with our playful side. We did some research with our Eureka! visitors early in 2012 which demonstrated that parents and grandparents were really keen on playing with their children but they often found themselves making excuses about not having enough time or not really having any good ideas about how to play that didn’t involve expensive toys or gadgets. So off they’d go to get their household chores done and the kids inevitably ended up in front of the telly, xbox or a computer screen.

Our experts at Eureka! aren’t at all happy about this because we want families to take advantage of every opportunity to enrich their lives through play. So we’ve made it our mission to make play a priority for every family in the UK by providing background information and ideas to help children and adults alike discover the joy of playing together.

Having just come through the joy and excitement surrounding Christmas, January can feel like a bit of a letdown once the tree is recycled and the decorations are packed away so it’s a great time to lift everyone’s spirits with some family playtime, and we’d like to help you start the New Year off on a positive and playful note or, as children’s author Robert Munsch says in Mortimer, with a “clang clang rattle bing bang”.

Children playing pirates with cardboard boxes2013 New Year resolution – play more with less

We’ve all seen it happen….it’s Christmas day and amidst the flurry of wrapping paper, tinsel and bows, the bright and shiny toys that our little ones so desperately had to have are lying idle while the cardboard box it came in seems to be getting all the attention! Why, we ask ourselves, did we spend so much money on all these gifts if a cardboard box would have done the trick?

Simply put, the answer is primarily that we love our children dearly and we want to make them happy through the presents we give them. In this day and age, this laudable intention has come to mean buying them the latest greatest piece of technology or “must-have” toy as dictated by the commercial world and reinforced by your children’s peer group.

In actual fact, it may be that your child doesn’t actually want the toy or gadget of the moment but feels they must have it in order to keep pace with their friends. What the Christmas cardboard box shows is that children are much more inspired by very simple objects and activities that allow them to use their imagination and direct their own play, to turn their cardboard box into a spaceship, a boat, a robot, whatever they fancy and to create their own adventure without the limitations imposed by manufactured toys, games and electronic gadgets.

This is what we’ve always tried to achieve at Eureka! We provide environments that encourage children to explore their own interests, to slowly step outside their natural comfort zones and to try out new experiences and try on various roles that help them identify their potential. Without a doubt a visit to Eureka! is a great way to kickstart the New Year but don’t let the fun end when you leave the building. Use the following ideas to keep the play habit going. We’re sure once you get started you’ll never want to stop and you and your children will soon be coming up with all sorts of creative play ideas on your own.

Our top 5 Play Ideas for A Happy 2013

  1. pirate cardboard boxesBoxing Days - We all know that sometimes the box is just as exciting as the present so why not extend the fun and turn large boxes into something from your imagination such as a rocket, car or castle. Draw on the sides to create windows, doors or wheels and use old clothes for dressing up and items from around the house as props.
  2. Christmas Card Craft – Instead of throwing away Christmas cards, recycle them. Help children cut out the designs, punch a hole in the top, add some ribbon and voila! Thrifty gift tags for next year’s presents!
  3. Become a Treasure Hunter or Pirate – Adults will need to hide the treasure around the house or garden and draw a map to help the children find their loot. A handkerchief on your head and using some beads can help you look and feel more piratey! See if the children can do a treasure hunt for you as well.
  4. Jam session – Using only items that are found in the room that you are in for instruments, see who can come up with the most creative instrument or make the most unique sound.
  5. Target practice – Turn a waste-paper basket into a monster’s mouth with some paper and crayons – roll up socks to act as pies and throw them to feed the monster! How far can you throw them?

For even more great ideas visit our website Play 20: Playtime Anytime.

This blog also appeared as column in the Friday 11 January 2013 edition of the Halifax Courier.

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Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning... They have to play with what they know to be true in order to find out more, and then they can use what they learn in new forms of play." - Fred Rogers

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