Given the significant social, environmental, and political events of the past year, it may feel like it’s more important now than ever to spend time with your mentee simply talking about their feelings to process all of the changes we’re experiencing. We always encourage you to follow your mentee’s lead, and if they want to spend your time together talking, you should of course do so. But what about when your mentee just wants to play? How can you be sure that you’re being the best mentor for your mentee?
Many leading child development researchers have talked about the importance of play for children, especially during times of stress or change. In fact, play is one of the main processing activities for children as they try to understand the world around them. Play can take concepts that are very scary — a global pandemic, family illness, social isolation, a severe weather event, etc — and make them less daunting. This can take many forms, such as role-playing or just incorporating some of the real-world experiences into games (i.e., using blocks to build a special clubhouse that’s “germ-free”). It is often in playtime where children are able to express feelings or concerns that they otherwise may have difficulty explicitly talking about.
Play also takes on more importance as children’s routines have been disrupted and their opportunities for play may have been diminished. Caregivers may be exhausted from just making ends meet in this time of financial precariousness and simply may not have the capacity to play. Students may long for more playtime, which is essential for nurturing social-emotional skills. While playing via the virtual mentoring platform certainly isn’t the same as playing in person, it still does offer the outlet and stimulation that children need. This is one of the reasons we put together our list of games and activities for the mentoring platform, but remember, there are other ways you can play together, too! Your only limit is your imagination!
The experience of play is a way for children to safely explore real-world topics on their own terms, making the issues more manageable for them. While this could feel impertinent or insignificant, the opposite is true. These moments of play are vitally important and are great opportunities for the mentor to help support their mentee as they safely explore their feelings. As an added bonus, engaging in playtime with your mentee strengthens your bond as you demonstrate a willingness to follow their lead and be silly, and the trust between you both deepens. Don’t be afraid to channel your inner child and let your imagination run wild — your mentoring relationship can grow when you’re willing to be a little silly!