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Want to unite your family? It’s as simple as PLAY

Nedum & I have adopted a family play culture. Some of our friends just think ‘Oh well, they just love to have fun. “ Sure we love to have fun but we are actually preparing our children for the future.

Then you should get them to be serious and do mental work, you might argue.

I have a different perspective on it. People who are serious about the future should be playing hard. According to the World Economic Forum, the number skill for the future is complex problem-solving skills; having that mental elasticity to solve problems especially the ones not yet created. Studies have chosen that this particular skill is mostly honed while playing games such as video games.

I have seen our children sharp this skill and other relevant life skills like critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication through play.

When you hear the wordplay what comes to your mind?

Perhaps I should even ask when last did you play by yourself, with your spouse and as a family?

A lot of us adults have stopped playing because, at some point in our lives, an adult sold us a lie. A lie that has stolen the play in our lives and homes and turned lots of African homes into terror homes that leave our children running to hide when they hear the footsteps of their parents. I remember as a child I liked to play with my friend’s building sandcastles and chasing one another around or playing hide and seek until my mother banned us from going downstairs to play with our neighbors, my siblings began my playmates.

For some other children, their stories are different. I once worked with a lady who had grown to be a bitter woman. As we began to go back to her past, she began to share with me how she was a very playful girl but her dad, who she described as a bulldog – that was the nickname she and her siblings and gave their dad because he was always looking stern-faced and serious. She joked that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for her father to smile. She lost the play in her because her father said only unserious people play and no child of his would-be found fooling around. She is now a mother and cannot see herself playing with her kids, which serious mother does that? Such a home environment is not ideal to raise a whole child who is relevant now and in the future because like Albert Einstein said “Play is the greatest form of research.”

Our homes are our learning laboratory. Play is a great tool to build a secure attachment with your children where the child feels seen, soothed, secure, and safe. Through play, your home exudes an aura that is friendly. The type of attachment you have as a parent with your children and the aura of your home support your children to flourish and learn life skills in a nurturing friendly environment. 

The more play is absent from a home, the more difficult it is to find wholesome human beings there. According to Brian Sutton Smith, the opposite of play is not work, it’s depression. Play provides us with the avenue for all-round flourishing – mentally, physically, socially, mentally, and emotionally.

Humans learn and grow through play especially the enduring unconscious learning where you learn without knowing you are learning and for me, that is when the transformation takes place.

Some of us as parents do not prioritize play. We are in a society that perceives play as unseriousness. Like the renowned researcher of shame, vulnerability, and courage Brene Brown says, “It takes courage to say yes to rest and play in a culture where exhaustion is seen as a status symbol.”

Play is not only great for bonding and stress relief, recent research like the one on video games and complex problem solving validate that play is also great for our productivity, mental elasticity, and general wellbeing. 

Some of the benefits of play include


Importance of play

  1. Immersive Learning: It is said that if you want to teach a child anything, hide it in play – I think that is only half-truth. These days, research is showing that not only children learn through play, even adults too. Humans learn and grow through play because play offers the least resistance to learning. Your home is the greatest learning lab before any school. Teach your children through play and watch how easily they will learn what you have been teaching through shouting.  Our human brains are malleable. Through play, we bypass conscious and rewire our brains through pleasant experiences. 


  1. Bonding: The best time you can give your children after good habits are good memories – Sydney Harris. Connecting your play through play strengthens the family bond. Some parents are just engrossed in making rules and setting expectations for their children. Too many rules and expectations put pressure on your child that can lead to anxiety-related disorders. Through play, you can still teach your children in a relaxed atmosphere that doesn’t put them under pressure. Intentional Parenting is more than rules, it includes creating memorable experiences with your children. The memories you create with your children today, are what they will remember about you tomorrow. Your family legacy is tied to the memories you create with your children. The play also breaks down the limits of family hierarchies and fosters secure attachment between parents and children.


  1. Encourage Life Skills Integration: According to neuroscience, the human brain cannot distinguish between what is real and imagined, that’s why people cry when they are watching an emotional movie even though consciously they know it is merely acting. Playing with your child games and fun-based activities helps them develop the skills needed to thrive in life, Skills such as collaboration (team games) sometimes dad and mom divide into teams with the children in one of both teams and compete in some team games. Oher skills such as critical thinking, effective communication, risk-taking, Emotional intelligence are also enhanced through play in a non-judging accepting atmosphere.


  1. Play as Happiness Booster Research shows that two of the hormones related to happiness come from relationships and we secrete them through play. Oxytocin – the cuddle hormone when you hug or fall freely on each other and Dopamine when you engage in physical activities together. Engaging in a variety of games, fun-based activities both indoors and outdoors to activate the secretion of these hormones is encouraged. For example, a walk in the park or walking barefooted with your children on beachside is both therapeutic, relaxing, and a good way to incorporate expressing gratitude and practicing mindfulness.


  1. Play creates rapport and community spirit – in the presence of rapport, anything is possible. In my work with teens and their parents, one common feedforward we get both ways is “my parents don’t understand me and the parents themselves are overwhelmed. Playing with your children builds rapport and diminishes the unapproachable perception that some children have for their parents. Play builds trust and encourages the children to open up and talk with their parents about their issues.


  1. Play helps your child’s cognitive development: Children need different types of play at different stages of their lives. For example, at the Preschool stage (3 – 6-year olds) playing with your child helps them develop cognitive skills, as well as reading, writing, social, emotional, and motor skills. As they grow into adolescents, you introduce logic reasoning games like board games to help them develop their inductive and deductive reasoning.

Every family dynamic is different and so each family can build a play culture to suit their unique peculiarities. The simplest way of doing this is to integrate play into your family day to day activities., rituals and traditions.


Simple Guidelines for creating a Family Play Culture

This guideline is from the word FAMILY to make it simple to remember

F – Fun

Your family Play Culture should be FUN. If it is boring and monotonous, everyone will get disinterested easily. You want to keep it exciting, entertaining and educative. 

A – Adaptable 

The play culture you adapt in your family should include activities that will make your children adaptable. Teach flexibility of thoughts, expectations and strategies through play as life will always present them with challenges that require them to be malleable, teachable and flexible.

M – Memorable 

What is play if it is not memorable? Create unforgettable memories with your children as you play. Remember to keep your family play culture simple, fun, engaging and enjoyable and memorable

I – Inclusive

Create opportunities for each family member to take turns in choosing what play activity the family should do per time. That way the unique style of every family member is explored, and everyone feels a sense of belonging. It is also fun to see the not so playful personalities bring their ‘serious’ twist to play.

L – Learning 

Your family play culture should not be meaninglessly goofing (even though sometimes you can goof) Play should be purposeful, challenging, and exciting. It should be an avenue to draw positive value-based lessons from simple activities in a friendly, non-judging atmosphere.

Y – Youthful

A lot of people are in a hurry to get old. Don’t be one of them. Like George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we are old, we get old because we stop playing. Play rejuvenates and rekindles the childlike spirit. Ensure to vary your play activities and keep it youthful. The more childlike your family play culture is, the more the whole family benefits from its potentials to strengthen family ties, foster stronger connections, and deepen intimacy.

If you are new to incorporating play into your family, you can take baby steps by creating family connection rituals. Here are some of the connection rituals Nedum and I enjoy with the Kays.

Family Meal Times: You can choose to eat together at least once every week and play indoor games e.g. board games afterward.

Family Play Dates: Especially during weekends and holidays. Design treasure hunts, hide and seek, tactile games, and other age-appropriate games.

Family Movie Dates: You can include movie dates and allow each family member to choose any movie of their choice that is age-appropriate so everyone can watch together.

Family Workouts: You can stay fit and healthy together by working out together as a family and it is bonding and relaxing too.

Family Goof Days: Choose a day you can clown around, play unhindered, and just enjoy one another’s the company either indoors or outdoors. For example, making silly faces, water fights, dance choreography, etc.


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