Most of us know someone that is ‘great with kids’. With a magnetic force akin to the Pied Piper, they can be spotted a mile away – an expressive look on their face, animated gestures flailing, and a hovering horde of little people at their feet, hanging on their every word. Not all of us will fall into this category, adoring of our children though we may be.
Author and ex-teacher Elspeth Richards does fall into this category and she’s sharing her secret. Elspeth and her daughter, Fiona Richards, have translated her natural flair for fun into a practical how-to-play guide for parents of children aged one to five. Playtime is the mother and daughter duo’s book debut, the result of a few years spent researching and sharing ideas about play via email, skype, and across continents.
It started when Fiona, an international lawyer with an MBA under her belt, was at home full-time with her one year old son for the first time, having worked for his first year.
Living in Hong Kong, thousands of miles from her native home of Sydney, she admits in the first page of the book that she was at a loss: “It was a shock to suddenly find myself in his company all of the time. I realized I didn’t really know him… How should I play with him, talk to him, help him to learn?”
She decided to call on the expert – her mother Elspeth back home, asking her to write down some of the games she used to play with her when she was a child. And so began the journey to Playtime.
In the book’s well-structured first half, Fiona delves deeply into the widely accepted theory that children learn through play, discussing how this is made possible and even strengthened through adult interaction. But if the word ‘theory’ makes you yawn, fear not. Peppered with personal anecdotes that provide insight into the mother-of-two’s sense of wonder as she watches her children discover their world, as well as her admiration for her mother, it has plenty of charm and is both easy to read and informative.
Fiona covers the basics of the important business of play including a desire for independence and for exploration, an ear for music and language, a need for repetition, order and routine, and a love of make-believe, fun and drama. These themes are expanded in the context of a child’s potential to learn, and are bound to prompt a few ‘Ah-hah’ moments for the reader.
“There’s an acceptance now that kids learn through play,” says Fiona. In writing the well-researched first half, she discovered that much of the literature on the topic seemed to just focus on activities and age guides. “That tends to get people a little bit stressed, because people start to think more in terms of these age and developmental milestones, instead of taking a step back from that and looking at what kids love doing first,” she explains.
And we know that kids love action. Playtime becomes a practical how-to guide in the second half, outlining over 40 simple games for parents to play with their children, along with detailed instructions. There are even suggestions on what to say to your child during the game. It’s here that the secret of Elspeth’s natural know-how is transcribed.
“I always wrote down anecdotes and information about my own children so I could pull all that out and see what they were doing at whatever age,” says Elspeth, who penned each of the simple games. “If you realise what it is that appeals to children, whether you make a funny face… or your fingers moving, they’re such simple things and I think most people know this but they just forget.”
Some of the games are familiar and others are brilliant in their simplicity, such as the DIY alphabet scrapbook: children practice their letters and fine motor skills at the same time, as they cut out pictures in magazines of objects beginning with a certain letter, and paste them on the appropriate page in their scrapbook.
Elspeth’s final, endearing touch is a section devoted to Grandparents that are living far away from their Grandchildren, offering ideas on how to effectively interact with them via whatever means are available.
And it’s these golden interactions, these pockets of priceless time and simple pleasures of parenthood, which make Playtime so relevant. While the principles of child’s play may sound obvious to some (especially those in the ‘great with kids’ category), the book is an excellent resource for the modern parent, Grandparent or carer – who like most of us, is time poor, racing from one chore, appointment or responsibility to the next.
“Most of it was written with first time parents in mind,” says Fiona. “But I also think parents who are working want to be able to give people who are spending time with their children a bit more direction or information.”
Elspeth says, “I do feel these little skills can be learnt, and any understanding of what comes naturally to a young child, what they love to do [will help].”
At its core, Playtime encourages us to treat every interaction with our children as an opportunity, to make the most of that special moment by going back to basics, getting down to their level, and letting them know that they’re very important. There are no expensive educational toys to buy, no T.V. involved, no diploma required. It seems that with some good, old-fashioned fun and a bit of guidance, anyone can be great with kids.
Playtime by Elspeth and Fiona Richards is published by Penguin Books and is available from book retailers for $24.95 (Recommended Retail Price).
Reviewed by Sally Paterson, freelance feature writer and business copywriter. For more information about the book reviewer or to contact Sally visit her website at www.sallypaterson.com.au