Guest Post: Bringing play into the everyday

A few weeks ago my 3-year-old daughter, B, and I attended LEAP for the first time.  It was AWESOME! I was so impressed with the activities we participated in.  Exploring pumpkin guts, reading books in a box, using clothespins, painting with vegetables, musical instruments, blocks and more!

As a former classroom preschool teacher and a current homeschooling mama, I could see the learning value of each station we experienced at LEAP.  And it was clear how these activities were engaging and fun for both my kiddo and the others in attendance.   

Despite this knowledge, it can be a challenge to take our daily play activities from ordinary to AWESOME in my life as a mom.  I've been thinking about this, and what the barriers to awesome are, all week.  In my reflections, I've realized that time, mess and noise are most often holding me back.

Bring play into the everyday  

I think it’s safe to say that anyone with young children feels their days are full and busy.  Simply taking care of daily tasks with a little helper along for the ride can feel overwhelming!  But the daily tasks must happen. 

Moving forward, I’m looking for more opportunities to integrate awesome activities into our daily routine.  My daughter is easing out of naps and into “quiet time.”  Building a fort to read books in, using felt pieces, even sensory bin experiences could all be part of this daily down time.  We cook at least once a day every day; she could easily be doing process-based art at our kitchen counter as I prep food.  In the past, she’s enjoyed “painting” butter onto rolls, a great example of how this might work.  I am actively reviewing our daily routine and considering where activities that B enjoys can fit into our day. 

But the mess!

While we were at LEAP, one of my daughter’s favorite activities was the vegetable painting.  Large sheets of paper, difficult to hold veggies, messy paint - what could go wrong?  While I’m sometimes hesitant to do these types of activities at home, I can’t help but admit that my daughter had an amazing sensory experience, used fine motor skills while manipulating the vegetables in different ways and explored the properties of the liquid paint as she tried various ways of applying it to the paper.  This is all good stuff. 

Maybe I should find a way to include messy “painting” in our routine?  My hope is to do so in a way that minimizes the clean up part of the process. 

Potential for mess: 1. Child, 2. Surroundings, 3. Supplies. 

Choose carefully and eliminate 1 or 2 clean up issues and you’re on the way to a manageable project.  LEAP veggie painting is actually a good place to start.  Maybe the ends of carrots, celery & peppers that were destined for the trash (or compost!) can have one more go at usefulness before being swept into the trash bin.  And, maybe, if this painting happens in the kitchen as I’m prepping dinner anyway, paint drips can be wiped up with my food splatters to save one pass of the sponge? I might also sometimes coordinate messy projects – paint, shaving cream, bubbles, whatever - with bath time or water play to ease clean up.  Who needs specialized bath toys when you can wash paint brushes in the tub?

And the noise….

In regards to noise, I realized with some reflection that it’s all about timing.  Instruments – like those set out at LEAP - offer our children a chance for creative expression, enhance hand-eye coordination and introduce scientific concepts of sound.  They can also ruin an important phone call and induce headache in parents.

As a preschool teacher, instruments were a “special” toy that was available often, but not every day. 20+ kids and a marching band was sometimes just too much.  Even with only one kid, instruments can still be an earful.  However, my daughter loves them and I recognize their many benefits.  At our house, we often start the day with a dance party.  It’s usually too early to make phone calls and we’re all fresh from a (hopefully) good night’s sleep.  As I prepare breakfast and empty the dishwasher, I put on some music and watch my daughter dance and play as I sip coffee or tea.  Eventually, I join her.  Maybe for you, dinner prep or evening clean-up is the perfect time for some musical exploration.  Do what works for your family!   

I am so glad I had the opportunity to participate in LEAP.   The fun we had while at Lincoln Park Zoo continues as we look for ways to incorporate some of the engaging activities into our daily life!

Katie Gnau is a professional educator, parent and teacher to her 3-year-old daughter.  She blogs at