Optimizing PlayTime

2010 February 19
by Evan Lenz

PlayTime is still a hit with the kids. I’m doing it twice a week with them on a rotating basis, for 30 minutes. It seems stingy when I think about it. That amounts to less than 30 minutes of play per child per week! But then I reassure myself that this isn’t the only time I’m playing or interacting with them. It’s just a particularly focused time of doing so. And I have to be honest. It hasn’t gotten much easier. It’s been challenging in two primary ways.

First, it’s challenging for me to focus on and visualize the scenarios they create. I have to listen and concentrate. And even though it’s only 30 minutes, I still find myself losing focus and asking, “Can you say that again?” I want to be clear on what it is I’m supposed to be doing. It’s better to fall slightly behind and then catch up quickly than to fall way behind, reveal it obviously by saying something dumb, and then witness that look of betrayal and disappointment. “Where have you been, Daddy?” But I’m slowly getting better. And I have hope that it will get easier. I haven’t reached that plateau where I’ve gotten caught up effortlessly in the play. There have been moments, but they’ve been isolated and short-lived.

I wonder if 30 minutes isn’t long enough for me to get past the hump of inertia? Maybe I need to expand the time a bit. This might help me let go of any clock-watching tendencies and lose myself in the play. Yes, I wonder if PlayTime just needs some tweaks.

If the kids love it so much, why would I want to change it? Well, I definitely take comfort in the fact that they love it regardless. Even if it never gets easier for me, that alone makes it well worth the effort. But making it more engaging for me, I think, would also increase the quality of the experience for both of us. And if my first tweak is to extend the session by 10 minutes, then I’m sure they’ll have no problem with that. It does always seem to end too quickly for them.

The second aspect that’s challenging is related to the first. Not only do I have trouble getting the play going, but sometimes the kids do too. At first, I thought this was just a matter of age. Sammy (9) had no problem at all getting started. All I had to do was keep up. He didn’t need any guidance, just supportive energy. My first PlayTime experience with Morgan (6) was a bit slower-paced, and it took her a while to get started, but soon she was off to the races too. With Lucas (3), I had to be more of a leader and be creative.

But since those first experiences, each of my kids have had their off-days. Sometimes it’s indecision about how to use the time. Other times it’s just a matter of not being inspired. So this is another reason I want to get better at it. When they’re not feeling particularly creative, I can contribute more and get the juices flowing.

Last night, I did PlayTime with Lucas. It took a little while to ramp up, but gradually he got more and more into the fantasy. He loves to shrink himself and go in tiny cracks in the floor or walls and then emerge out from some other surface. He’s definitely getting better at PlayTime. If he can do it, so can I. Right? Starting today, PlayTime will be 40 minutes long.

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