Play Ideas For Parents Who Are Admittedly Awful At Playing Dolls

Disclosure: This post reflects an editorial partnership with the #PlayForAll campaign, sponsored by IKEA. All thoughts and opinions about the importance of play – and why play can even mean assembling goat mailers with your kids – are, of course, my own.

As a parent, parenting writer, and former neuroscientist, I often think about how our upbringing impacts how we raise and interact with our kids. I grew up in a family of 7 kids with strict, practical parents – I don’t recall ever sitting down with a book or to play with my mom or dad. That said, it actually didn’t feel like a huge loss because I had 6 siblings. I understood that my parents were busy trying to raise a family and keep their business afloat, so I ended up taking comfort in little, everyday opportunities to be with them – whether that was running errands or helping in the kitchen.

It’s probably no accident, then, that when it comes to play, I’m a bit more on the practical side. I like to be doing something with my kids that we can all enjoy (vs. me attempting to sit and play dolls, which I am terrible at) and that is sometimes productive. That might sound a little selfish, but for me it’s just the reality – time with my kids is precious and I’d rather be happy and engaged than grumpy and resentful during our play time! In partnership with IKEA, today I wanted to share some of my favorite everyday ways to play with my kids, and also share about something really cool IKEA is doing this holiday season.

7 Easy, Old School Ways to Play With Your Kids

1. Baking

Anyone who follows me on Instagram and longtime readers of this blog know well how much I believe in getting kids in the kitchen. I’ve had my kids baking and cooking with me since toddlerhood and we have a lot of fun making messes in the kitchen together. And sometimes while I’m working hard to get to a deadline, all of a sudden I smell something amazing and find M&M cookies downstairs.

2. Outdoor adventures

My kids love devices as much as the next kid, but knowing that -- and the fact that physical activity is limited during the day -- getting outside is critical. In addition to being awful at doll play, I will admit that I get tremendously bored at the playground. I find swings especially agonizing because we’re outside but my kids aren’t moving! So, some of our favorite outdoor adventures are ones where nature is the playground and they can scrabble around on rocks.

3. Simple science-based activities

I guess one of the reasons I love baking with my kids is that baking represents math and science rolled up into one – not trivially, with a yummy treat at the end! But one of the super fun things about having a 5-year-old is that we’re also at a stage where we can do fun everyday science games like nature scavenger hunts. Given that I’m a former science nerd, it’s been fun to teach Violet about observation, categorization, and data collection.

4. Art projects

Art is play, whether it’s the simple act of making art or – if you are like Violet – it involves developing imaginary story elements, such as in this treasure hunt drawing.

5. Cards, puzzles, and games that make me think too

While I’m not great sitting on the floor playing dolls, I love doing puzzles, playing cards, and playing games that make me think too. Violet routinely crushes me at James Bond (a card game) and memory (the classic pairing game), so clearly I need to think a little harder!

6. Helping me with work projects

So remember how I talked about how I used to take comfort in helping my parents with errands? The tradition apparently continues. Just a couple of weeks ago I had a huge mailing to put together for a client and the girls ended up helping me assemble it because it involved goats, which they found really funny.

7. On the fly play

One thing I’ve learned from Jon is that you can make up games wherever you are. He is a master at verbal car games (we go device-free during road trips) and also of making up games if we’re waiting at restaurants or in lines. It can be as simple as a round of I Spy or going through the alphabet and trying to name an animal for each letter. Play can be had anywhere. It’s kind of magical that way.

IKEA’s Good Cause Campaign

Now, to return to IKEA. I think anyone who has been to IKEA knows that they dig kids. They offer lots adorable of décor and toys for kids. They offer kid-friendly fare at their store restaurants. They even have Småland. But they’ve also been committed to kids on a global, philanthropic scale.

In a nutshell, IKEA believes that play is crucial to a kid’s development. In the 1990s, the IKEA Foundation began its work, helping to formulate child labor codes and fighting other causes of child labor around the world. Since its inception, 100 million children have benefited from programs through the IKEA Foundation and $36 billion has been raised or contributed to fund child and youth education, health, and well-being programs. In total, they have supported 49 partners with grants benefiting children in 46 countries. SO AWESOME, right?

And now here is where YOU come in. IKEA Foundation just launched the IKEA Good Cause Campaign: From November 20 - December 24, IKEA will donate $1 to be divided between partner organizations from each purchase of a participating IKEA soft toy, children’s book, or children’s play furniture (they’ll also offer a monetary donation option at checkout).

I think this is great for many reasons but one of them connects to a personal story. A couple of years ago when we were at IKEA, Violet very much wanted a stuffed owl she saw. Jon did not get it for her but took a photo of it and said that maybe at some point in the future she could ask for the owl for her birthday or a holiday. Several months later, Laurel and I were shopping at IKEA and realized we could get Violet the owl for her birthday, but had no idea what it looked like (and there were a couple of owl options at that time). Jon texted me the photo, we procured the owl, and it has since become Violet’s favorite lovey, Owly. This owl went to preschool with her every day, goes on every vacation, and is her bedtime buddy. Owly is routinely in our family vacation photos. When Violet started kindergarten this year, she even put a picture of Owly inside the locket Laurel gave her.

In case you’re wondering, Owly is very well loved and is getting very skinny, and I am currently harboring immense regret that I didn’t buy a backup owl (or 5). But for now, we’re simply enjoying the happiness Owly brings Violet, and I’m grateful that both silly and productive play is part of our everyday lives.