Ideas to Keep Your Child Engaged
7:00 am
Mon August 12, 2013

"I Don't Have Anything to Do!"

I don’t have anything to do! 

It’s summer – and the children are home from school. After even a few days of “freedom,” moms and dads everywhere start hearing the familiar, high-pitched whine of summer. No, it’s not the 17-year cicadas. It’s our children declaiming loudly “I don’t have anything to do!”

But doesn’t it seem like your child has every toy under the sun?  Why not play with those?

There are reasons that may explain why children don’t play with the toys that are available.

The child may be bored with the “same, old same old.”  Many parents get disgruntled when they hear their child is bored, but boredom is a good thing. It’s a sign that your child is growing and changing. Toys and activities that satisfied him in the past no longer meet his needs because he is developing new needs.

It’s a good idea to watch how he plays to get an idea of what challenges he needs next. Then, choose toys or activities that are just a little bit beyond his present skill level, so that he’ll be busy trying to master new skills as he uses the new toys.

Just so you know that we are not suggesting you go out and buy a lot of expensive, new stuff, remember that children are often most intrigued by toys and materials that let them design their own games.

Free or inexpensive things like cardboard boxes, tape, glue, Styrofoam pieces, fabric, egg cartons, Popsicle sticks, etc. can be combined and recombined into many different materials for play. All it takes is a little creativity and, as they say on TV, hours of fun!

Another reason that your child may not be engaged with her toys anymore is that she cannot locate them easily. Sets of toys are dismantled and scattered about so that the collection of toys looks more like a pile of parts rather than an opportunity for play.

Your child’s play space doesn’t need to look like a toy store with everything in place. If you spend too much time keeping everything highly organized, you may discourage your child from actually using her toys.

But too much disorganization makes it hard for children to focus on the individual pieces. Keeping things loosely organized in bins tubs and on shelves lets your child focus on what is in front of her eyes. It is a lot more tempting to build a tower with 20 blocks than it is with only the 3 blocks you can find in the heap, right?

A third way to tempt your child into play is to combine two or more toys creating a new play scheme and extending play (http://www.ncca.biz/aistear/pdfs/guidelines_eng/play_eng.pdf).

For example, when you add trucks and a few rocks to your set of wooden blocks, you’ve got all the elements of a construction site. Spark interest in that lump of play dough in the ‘frig by adding plastic knives, cookie cutters, mini-rolling pins and a cookie sheet. Voila – a bakery! 

Combining items from your household that are not ordinarily thought of as toys can be fun, too. Janet remembers playing for hours with her grandmother’s collectable salt and pepper shakers. (They sang and danced.)  Creative play (http://www.pbs.org/wholechild/providers/play.html) is so rewarding and it takes a lot of time!

For a more peaceful, whine-free summer, invest a little time in observing your child at play and adding to or changing the materials and toys your child uses. It will be fun to see how focused and productive your children can be.

Kittie Butcher and Janet Pletcher
Kittie Butcher and Janet Pletcher

For more ideas about summer fun with your child, go to MSU Extension article archives at http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/archive/info/early_childhood_development.

This is part of a series of articles on early childhood development by Kittie Butcher MSU Extension Educator, Children Youth Families & Communities and Janet Pletcher MA, Adjunct Faculty, Child Development and Early Education Program, Lansing Community College.