Why big kids need play, too

Teenagers playing a game of tug of war in a grassy field.

Why big kids need play, too

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Renowned educator Maria Montessori described 12-18 year olds as budding social justice advocates. Children in this stage are developing who they are and how they can be of service to the world. Pre-teens and teens are deep thinkers. These adolescents are very serious and dedicated to figuring out what the world is about and how they fit into it. Physical and mental changes make this can be an exciting and challenging time for youth. They need opportunities not only to blow off steam, but to play and develop their creativity. Yes, big kids need play, too!

Socialization and Play

Many teens and tweens have their own devices to connect to others digitally. Unless it's during structured activities, clubs, or organized sports, teens rarely have unstructured “play” time. As kids become more independent, it's unlikely for parents to push this free play. Although big play groups may not be appropriate at this time, encouraging your older kids to connect with their peers offline when it's safe to do so is so important for their mental health and well-being.

Exercise and Play

In our current pandemic society it is even harder for young people to have opportunities to play with their friends, and it is increasingly important for the adults in their lives to make space for them to let their play muscles get exercise. Getting kids off their devices can take a little maneuvering or persuading sometimes, but it’s not always hard to distract them from their digital presence. Encourage your tweens and teens to get outside, hang out with neighborhood kids (when it's safe), and explore. Let go of the fear that they will get in trouble or get hurt. Riding bikes, taking a walk in a nearby park, or going fishing are playful activities that get the body moving and teens playing! Play some music at home and have a dance party. All of these activities will help your older children play and move.

Tinker and Play Like a Child

It is pretty hard for anyone to eschew bubbles. In addition, it would be a challenge for a teen to ignore dry ice in a kiddie pool and a few PVC pipes and a hose. A refrigerator box and a can of paint, a giant piece of wood and spray paint, stickers and an old dresser, and water squirters are all things that would likely captivate a teen if a willing adult started in on it, quietly…and offered encouragement. There are few young adults that wouldn’t be ready to start creating and playing with materials if you started a Rube Goldberg machine with some ping pong balls, dominos, cardboard and masking tape. A tray with some nuts and bolts and magnets on the coffee table might be enough to get a digital addict to put the device away for longer than you might think possible. Fill a kiddie pool with sand and pretend you’re at the beach. Spray each other with the hose. Or simply run through a sprinkler. Sometimes all it takes is permission to encourage sensory and constructive play.

Pretend Play

Youths are often natural dramatists, we see this as parents when their hormones rage and their feelings are strong. Kids are also so creative and want to put on a show. There's a reason TikTok is so popular! Channel this ability into doing some fun drama games. Charades can be corny for youth sometimes, so have the kids come up with some guessing games that incorporate creating characters and personalities based on celebrities or family members. Make your own rules to make it personal and laugh together. Finally, have them just act out their own skits or plays. Parents know how important it is for children to be children. Older kids can have a hard time remembering this, especially with the weight of the world on their shoulders during the pandemic. Make some time to bond with your big kids and make PLAY a regular part of your DAY.

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