When I was a stay at home dad, I made a rule that every day we would have at least one uninterrupted hour of playtime with books, toys and no screens. During this time, we made games out of boxes, paper towel rolls, and random household items. One day I discovered how much my daughter loved to talk into the open end of a solo cup and hear the vibration of her voice echoed back to her. That birthed a modified “cup stacking” game, in which I would see how high of a tower I could build using stuffed animals, toys and any random objects I could find. Some days my daughter would smile and point at the structures and other days, she would try to knock the towers over just as fast as I built them. Eventually she even tried to stack the cups herself. The point is, I didn’t know how much fun I could have trying to build small towers out of completely random objects. Making up games allowed playtime to be something I looked forward to, even when I was tired and she was cranky.
Seven tips for making playtime fun:
1 – Give the stuffed animals the most ridiculous voices you can think of – It really brings me joy to make a stuffed animal talk like Morgan Freeman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or a terrible Barbara Streisand impression. Make up your own voices and have some silly fun.
2 – Provide commentary like a broadcast sports announcer – While this sounds strange, I challenge you to try this. Take a ball, or create an obstacle course with soft stuffed animals and then comment on your child’s actions as if they’re in the middle of a championship game. Your child will have a unique reaction and it can be fun for you to provide a play-by play analysis of something as mundane as tummy time.
3 – Tell them inside jokes and stories – If you read the data, you’ll know that the more words your child hears by the age of 3, the better they will do in school. Theoretically, it makes sense to talk to them as much as you can, but it can be difficult to just “talk” to a person who can’t hold a conversation. Try telling them about your favorite book, movie, most interesting childhood story, or go into a deep dive about your obscure hobby or the things you are a fan of. You don’t always have to spend your time with the child doing “baby talk”.
4. Get a ball pit and teach yourself to juggle – We all know that space can be limited, but you can turn almost anything (including wicker baskets, or pack and plays) into a ball pit (make sure they are BPA free). Your kid will enjoy the home made ball pit and while you’re watching them play, teach yourself to juggle. Your child will be interested in the movement and it will be something that you’ll either get really good at or have fun trying. Just make sure your child is safely playing and you aren’t completely distracted by the juggling… keep your eyes on the kid 🙂
5. Get a Kazoo, Harmonica, or obscure instrument and try to get good at it – Don’t go out and buy a Stradivarius (yes I googled expensive violins to complete that reference), because your child will use and eventually break whatever instrument you have for playtime. However, if you get a cheap kazoo or harmonica, your child will perk up with interest when you’re playing it and with practice, you might actually get good. It allows you to provide your own custom “soundtrack” to their playtime and it gives you something interesting to do while watching your child.
6. Purchase wireless headphones and listen to music, a podcast, or an audio book during playtime – When I first started staying at home alone with my daughter, I would listen to wired headphones, which she would reach for and pull. Swapping to wireless headphones allowed me to listen to music, podcasts and audio books while holding her and playing with toys. I really recommend that you find a podcast that you can listen to straight through or set up a playlist so you aren’t constantly distracted and checking your phone. I also can’t stress this enough, try your best to talk to your child as much as possible. Even if you are listening to your favorite song, consider singing to your child. If you are learning something new from a podcast, try to summarize it in simple terms for your baby. Even if they can’t truly understand, they still learn from tone, body language and voice. Every word you share has value.
7. Make up your own game – A few months ago, my friend Adam told me that “playtime is the business of children.” By playing, they are learning about the world and creating new connections in their brain. When your child sees that you are having fun interacting with the world, it makes them smarter and more creative. When you’re a new dad, you have a great excuse to be silly, so go out there and make up your own game.