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Lesson Plan for Parents: How to Play

Good Morning America parenting correspondent Annie Pleshette Murphy sat on the GMA show stage earlier this week surrounded by toys -- a Sorry game, a magic kit, blocks, a little people truck, a pasta maker ... Yes, I said that right, a pasta maker, which she said her son loved when he was 7.

The topic: Her new book called "The Secret of Play." As we've discussed before, play is all-important in the development of our kids.

"Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child," according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Apparently, because of our too-busy, too-structured lives, parents need some reminders about exactly how to play.

Here are a top 5 from Pleshette Murphy:

1.  Play first, not last: Take a break during the witching hour and play for 10 minutes before scrambling to get dinner on the table.

2. When you commit to play, "be fully present": Put the blackberry away and focus on the kids.

3. Keep toys simple.

4. Boredom is good. Frustration is good. Both promote problem solving.

5. Promote creativity: Think dress-up clothes, art supplies and non-toy toys.

What else would you add to the list? Do you think we've forgotten how to play?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  December 12, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Child Development
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Posted by: jezebel3 | December 12, 2008 7:12 AM | Report abuse

Seriously? We need lessons in how to play? Sounds like someone's trying to create a problem in the hopes of selling a solution.

Although, if anyone has any good tips on how not to die of boredom during the day's thousandth game of hi-ho cherrio, I'd be glad to listen.

Posted by: newsahm | December 12, 2008 7:47 AM | Report abuse

You'd be surprised. I teach Pre-K in a Title I school in Prince George's County. The parents have been invited in for several workshops to show them activities that they can do with their child.

A lot of these parents don't know how to play with their kids. A lot of parents don't talk to their kids. The homework that is sent home is essentially 10 minute activities that encourage talking between parents and children.

Posted by: cookie75 | December 12, 2008 7:57 AM | Report abuse

Hide and Seek is a great game for stressed out parents to play with their kids. Just declare, "I'm it!" and tell your pre-schooler to find a good hiding place.

Start counting...

Then you can get a few minutes of peace and quiet if you're lucky.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | December 12, 2008 8:34 AM | Report abuse


I will trade you CandyLand for Hi Ho Cherrio!

When they are bigger, you can switch to Life and Monopoly.

My parents have always played cards with my brothers and me. Nothing like a good game of War or Casino. (No, we really never played poker.)

In fact, I was playing Pinochle with the daughter formerly known as AF dau and younger son last night. Heck the Saints were losing anyway!

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | December 12, 2008 9:44 AM | Report abuse

BTW, WW, that is a well known trick for parents with more than 1 offspring!

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | December 12, 2008 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Fred, pinochle's a great game. And I was bummed the Saints lost last night - the only thing good about that game was that both teams were using Purdue alums as starting QBs.

(WW, if you play pinochle against your kids, make it for a dollar a point. Or a chore per point!)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 12, 2008 9:54 AM | Report abuse


Well, I don't know that Pinochle is so great. I was up by 490 points and 30 away from winning. My son picked up double Pinochle and a family in one hand and won the game!

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | December 12, 2008 9:59 AM | Report abuse

and the college's name is Purdon't!

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | December 12, 2008 10:00 AM | Report abuse

We have two main rules concerning toys in our house: They have to encourage creativity and imagination, which means no electronic or "fad" toys based on the trash that passes for today's cartoons on channels the kids aren't allowed to watch anyway, and they can't be video games...when the kids are older we might amend that to allow them to play with classic games like the old Atari and Sega games (we have both systems), but only as a reward for good grades or a rainy-day resource. Board games are always good (I've got a vast selection stored in the closet), and puzzles are becoming a hit with my older daughter. My 20-month-old has gotten interested in drawing already...give hre a crayon, pencil, or pen and a piece of paper, and she'll stand there against the coffee table scribbling away on the paper for close to half an hour if nobody bugs her.

And newsahm, I agree with you...the biggest challenge playing games like Hi-Ho-Cherry-O with my older daughter ad infinitum is not letting my head go thunk on the table out of sheer boredom on my part! Fortunately, she's old enough now (6 1/2) to be getting interested in games with a bit more of a challenge to them like Sorry! or Connect 4 or Trouble! (Note to self: teach her to play dominoes too.) I got my husband a baseball glove for Christmas this year (he's a southpaw, so finding a glove for him was a bit more of a challenge than usual), so in the spring he can start teaching her the basics of baseball (she already has a bat, ball and glove of her own from her birthday this summer). Now all I need to do is get a kickstand for her bike so we can lose the training wheels on it and let her learn to ride without them. And those outdoor games like horseshoes and those velcro ball catchers are fun too!

What I'm saying is, there's plenty of creative games, toys, and outdoor activities you can do with your just has to know where to look and what to look for!

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | December 12, 2008 10:05 AM | Report abuse

The full title of the book being shilled is:

"The Secret of Play: How to raise smart, healthy, caring kids "


Posted by: jezebel3 | December 12, 2008 10:15 AM | Report abuse

When I play board or card games with my kids, I usually pplay to win and begin each game with a taunt such as, "I'm gonna squash you like a bug", or "I'm going to beat you like a red-headed step child!"

And they all know rule #1: No cheating! (which is reall easy to do when the competition is blind)

There is 1 exception though. I was always happy to let my kids cheat on me when playin war. The exceptionally boring card game could take hours to finish, but if I let them cheat, the game could end in less than 15 minutes. Yeah!

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | December 12, 2008 11:17 AM | Report abuse

You bring up a good question, Wacky Weasel. It is appropriate to let kids win games, and when should you begin playing in earnest, ie, to win? My son's soccer team had a parent-son game at the end of the season a couple of years ago (the boys were about 6 years old), and most of the parents team was composed of dads. I was appalled that that a few of the dads were so intent on winning that they played quite roughly given that their opponents were only about 4 feet tall. I personally get no joy out of beating my son at any game. I do play to win occasionally, because I think he does need to learn how to lose gracefully, but in games where my skills are clearly superior to his (this area grows smaller with every passing day) I usually hold back a little. Of course, he beats me handily on video games. I have been teaching him that doing the happy dance is not a graceful way to win.

Posted by: emily8 | December 12, 2008 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Younger son hasn't asked me to play chess with him in a while. I think I'll mention it this week end and see if he's interested.

Playing to win, yes. But to use our chess games as an example: the first game both of us start with all the pieces on the board - I win. Second game, younger son gets to remove three of my pieces from the board before the game starts - he wins unless I'm very, very lucky and manage to play him to a draw. Third game (after I've lost and we need a tie-breaker) I get to put back one of the pieces that he removed before the start of the 2nd game - this one may go either way, and it's a great challenge to both of us to play this way.

Other competitive games get handled the same way. If one of the players has a big advantage, we'll institute a handicap of some kind so the play is more evenly matched. Everyone can play their best game, and we don't know before the game starts who is going to be the winner, and the kids will see me or DH modelling either winning or losing gracefully.

Posted by: SueMc | December 12, 2008 1:42 PM | Report abuse

My kid isn't yet 2, so our games are pretty simple. Usually I just let her decide what we're going to play and follow her lead. She likes to play "sleep," where she puts us to bed then screams WAKE UP, "walk," where we walk around the house and do things like hop, stomp, raise our hands in the air, and run, and "house," which is making a house out of most of the legos, filling it with the extras, then tearing it apart. She'll also let me read to her forever, and she's usually happy at the park for the better part of an hour. Honestly, as long as it holds her attention for 15 minutes or more, I'm very happy. There are those days when nothing makes her happy, and they always seem to come when it's raining, very cold, or dark, and going outside is not an option. That's when we pull out the videos.

Posted by: atb2 | December 12, 2008 4:09 PM | Report abuse

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