Anyone who has had a child knows that "parenting" is a full time, incredibly important role to successfully raising of a physically, mentally, and emotionally well developed offspring. Webster tells us that the definition of "parenting " is "the raising of a child by its parents".
Those of us in positions of creating and marketing toys and games like to feel that parents' efforts in raising children can be enriched through the selection of age appropriate and stimulating playthings. Choosing those playthings is only Step 1 of two steps in parenting.
Engaging and being involved with a child in use of suitable toys and games is Step 2. Experts tell us that "bonding" with an infant from its earliest days is critically important in developing the child-parent relationship. In Step 2 of parenting during toddler years and beyond, very regular engagement with a child using toys and games make for what might be called days of "playful parenting".
My own start with creating games began during several years of teaching when I witnessed that students' attraction and interest were increased when course content was put into playful, fun forms. Those experiences launched my thinking about "playful teaching" where as the adult in the room, I exposed my flocks to what became known in the commercial world as "teaching aids".
Ultimately, it was my good fortune to land a product development job with Milton Bradley Company. What better place to be than with a company where at the time their logo broadcast on each product that it was a "Key to Fun and Learning"? The product line included aids to teach all major curriculum areas like elementary math, social studies, reading, etc. A major published product series was the GOAL programs developed under the direction of a leading early childhood educator at the time, Dr. Merle B. Karnes. (GOAL was an acronym for Game Oriented Activities for Learning.) With that experience, I was more convinced than ever that putting the right play materials with clear directions in the hands of an adult, be it teacher or parent, would lead to meaningful enrichment activities for children.
During those MB days, I made several efforts to get the company to commercialize playful parenting for mass-market consumers. One concept, I dubbed Do-Together activities was intended to give parents "recipe cards" they could follow using common household physical elements to help develop important preschool skills. Another concept was to add value to the Playskool division's product by printing several suggestions on the packaging whereby parents could expand the use of a specific toy beyond a child's independent play. The parent directed activities would maximize the plaything's educational benefits. Neither of these ideas moved forward though both would have put parents in the forefront of engaging children in expanded meaningful, playful ways.
Today we are in a "screen obsessed" age. We see many parents giving youngsters tablets and pads for entertainment and amusement. Certainly the strengths of these devices cannot be denied with their attractive visual displays, engaging content, and immediate feedback to name a few features. Unfortunately, all too often these devices are not time monitored and frequently are given to distract a child to control behavior. These digital devices are becoming what in earlier days in the industry, were call "shut up toys". They were given when a child was misbehaving, often on a shopping trip and the toy was purchased to quell tantrums. Undeniably, digital play devices are in high demand, but they should not be a total replacement for physical playthings and more importantly, for a substitute to parent interaction with a child.
Children are not born with an inherent knowledge of how to play. Among their many early dependencies are needs to be shown how to amuse, entertain, stimulate, interact, behave and enjoy the world around them. No one is better able to provide and foster these skills than a playful parent. That is one who makes it a priority to spend quality time engaged with an age appropriate board game or an interesting, perhaps electronically enhanced, toy. In today's world with so many attractions and distractions, it is the parent who must set the stage for play. Doubtful that many children beyond the preschool years will ask to play one of those classic board games we adults all remember. But once an adult gives an invitation, the fun and engagement between parent and child will likely be equally as rewarding as any solitary time starring at a screen. For the adult, there is no greater pleasure than experiencing "playful parenting" and for the child to receive it.
Ron has spent over forty years of his career heading development departments and managing processes to transform ideas into new products for a variety of industries, including toys and games. Twenty- seven of those years were spent at Milton Bradley and Hasbro. During that time he headed MB’s Education Division, product managed game lines, including Yahtzee, and served as Director of R & D at Playskool. He rose to vice president of Inventor Relations for Hasbro Games, where he met with hundreds of inventors. Ron currently does contract development work and consults to the industry.
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