Even in uncertain times, children’s love of play remains

September 21, 2020
PHOTO: Getty Images

As we look at the world around us, much has changed. For the health and protection of ourselves and others, people wear masks, stickers on the ground remind us where we should stand, and friends and families meet virtually, or if the opportunity arises to see each other in person, we give each other a head nod or an air hug to greet each other.

From our children’s perspective, everyday life looks a bit different, too. At the beginning of spring break, our kids hollered “see you in a week!” as they exited the school hallways for a brief holiday. Little did any of us know that the week would turn into a month and eventually turn into the rest of spring and summer.

In the midst of these challenges, one thing that has remained constant is our children’s ability and desire to play: endless hours of exchanging roles in their blanket forts, making up new versions of hide and seek, spraying each other with hoses and water guns in the summer heat. Gleeful giggles turn into uncontainable laughter – a welcome sound that rings in our ears and warms our hearts, reminding us that much of what matters most is still the same.

Play is the most important “work” our children engage in, and how grateful I am that it comes so naturally and instinctually. Thankfully, play doesn’t require extra finances or special instructions, and oh boy has there been an abundance of time! Play is the way our children explore the world around them – including the new rules, roles and regulations of COVID-19 in our new realities.

Certainly, in the midst of this pandemic, some of their play has taken an unexpected turn. Some pre-school and young school-aged children may have played out the pandemic in their pretend kitchen – going to the store to purchase groceries and a low supply of disinfecting wipes and toilet paper. Or perhaps they may have taken their stuffed animals to the doctor for a check up to see if they had “sick germs” and ended up quarantining their favorite teddy bear until he was better. 

My children, who are a bit older, playfully wrote a song to express their take on COVID-19. Included in their melodious tune, “We’ve gotta stop this virus from taking over the world, people getting sick every day. We’ve gotta make a change: we gotta wash our hands, wear a mask and we are good to go.” Their choreography may or may not have involved holding up their hands to “stop” Coronavirus in its track. My children also found a voice by sharing what was pressing on their hearts in writing a promissory note, or a contract of sorts, encouraging family and friends to sanitize their hands and wear a mask for the sake of others until this virus is beat.

Play is an amazing medium for children to express themselves – their joy of increased time and attention with their caregivers, their concerns of how COVID-19 impacts their world, their misunderstandings or fears expressed and addressed by their loved ones through play, their new found mastery and resilience in the new norm we all find ourselves.

No matter what form of play our children choose to express themselves, it’s our opportunity to support their exploration and allow them to share the emotions they may sometimes unknowingly suppress, but which often surface in the less intimidating forum of play. And if we watch and listen attentively, we have a front row seat to learn about the world through their eyes.

Post by:

Lesley Chong, child life specialist