Experts say that it’s just as important for dads to provide emotional comfort to their kids as moms, and that playing is one of the best ways for dads to serve as role models and strengthen bonds. It all starts with finding the time.
“There are so many distractions taking us away from playing with our kids -- from technology to work commitments to household chores,” says Dr. Erik Fisher, psychologist and expert contributor to TheGeniusofPlay.org. “But unstructured play is crucial. No matter what the age, kids learn valuable lessons from this time spent together.”
What’s more, studies suggest that playtime with dads may also be beneficial to children’s health. Those families where fathers had increased involvement with childcare -- particularly with such physical tasks as playing with kids, taking them for walks outside, bathing or dressing them -- experienced a decreased likelihood of childhood obesity from age 2 to 4, according to a 2017 study published in the research journal “Obesity.”
The good news is that incorporating play into your family schedule does not need to be a daunting task. Check out these fun ideas for dads from The Genius of Play, a national movement providing families with information, inspiration and hands-on ideas to make play an important part of their child’s day.
• Quicksand: Lay two even trails of pillows on the floor. These are the “stepping stones” players need to land on to avoid falling into the quicksand! The pillows should be at least a foot apart from each other. Take turns jumping from stepping stone to stepping stone. Anyone who touches the floor must start from the beginning. Whoever makes it to the end first wins!
• Dolls: Experts say that it’s important for fathers to play with their kids in gentle ways beyond roughhousing. Not all dads played with dolls as children, but this is an example of play that offers an opportunity to teach children about love, as well as model healthy emotions and desirable social behaviors.
• Scavenger Hunt: Write a list of items kids should look for and see how many of those things they find. Indoor objects can be a book, a blue sock, etc.; outdoor objects can be a green leaf, a rock, a feather, etc.
• Building Together: Whether you use simple blocks to create a tower or interlocking pieces to form a race track or maze, construction toys offer opportunities to collaborate and problem solve together, while helping the child develop spatial reasoning and explore science concepts like gravity.
• Homemade Map: Before setting off on a trip, talk with your kids about where the family is headed. Together, draw a map, including your starting point, destination, and major stops and landmarks along your route, complete with illustrations.
For more play ideas, expert advice and other play resources, visit TheGeniusOfPlay.org.
Playtime is beneficial for healthy child development. From spontaneous games of catch to hands-on arts and crafts, there are many ways that dads can, and should, get in on the fun.