Far too few people are truly aware of the importance of play. Between school, homework, extra curricula activities etc. playtime gradually diminishes. For many kids it simply vanishes between the bulk of scheduled chores, but this is not a healthy path to take.
My kids engage in free play on a daily basis. My husband and I promote it and make time for it. Let me give you a sweet example:
Even if my kids (4 & 6) are good at playing by themselves, the times that I see them most excited is when the neighbors’ granddaughter (7) is in town. From the moment they are told she’ll be coming the air fills with an almost anxious yearning for time to pass - and my kids are completely unable to engage in anything meaningful.
When she finally arrives the mood changes. A gasp of relief mixed with excited tension building up. At first, the three of them are all just very shy. Silence and timid glares fills the space between them, but just for a moment. Then finally, just like throwing a ball in the air and expecting someone to catch it, one of them sends out an invitation to play: A smile, a comment, a question - or one of them just runs off with a laugh for the rest to follow.
It’s like pushing a button to launch a rocket when these three young minds set off on their amazing play mission.
Hours of free, imaginative play in the garden, in the garage, and in all the rooms of the house. No need for parents nor television. All the stuff we have: books, blankets, chairs, pillows, and toys, toys, toys, are needed for quest upon quest. Last time this playful trinity even made a house inside our car :-D
(Sorry for the not having a photo of it - big mistake - wont happen again!)
It’s creativity and imagination on the loose and it’s wonderful to witness - and even to see the traces (mess) gradually spreading and growing like weeds all over the place. These traces are more than just a promise of extra work for the parents when the day is done. They are evidence of something dead serious and vital to existence.
“Play is like the fertilizer for brain growth. It’s crazy not to use it,” Stuart Brown M.D. writes in his eye-opening book: “Play - How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul”. He builds a compelling case for the importance of play for all of us. Play, he says, has simply proven to be essential to leading a happy and successful life. It’s a biological need like food and sleep. Without it we stop growing.
So, obviously I am grateful for knowing that free play make my kids smarter and give them valuable tools to build a foundation for a competent adult life - that their playful activities will nurture them and support a creative mindset and innovative approaches to life. Yet, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have promoted free play even if it had no learning opportunities, simply because it makes the players happy.
We all want our kids to grow up and be happy, successful and to thrive. One of the most important tools to achieve this is right in front of us. As Stuart Brown explains in his book: “Play is a state of mind, rather than an activity.”
So, when your kids are pulling out all the toys, decorating your garden with your designer couch cushions - or if they are approaching a school assignment in a novel way, take a eep breath and smile. Keep in mind that you are facilitating a prosperous future for them, because you are giving them a chance to explore their talents and authentic selves for themselves. Ultimately, letting your kids to play freely can be your own opportunity to leading a playful, happy life by inspiration.
In my case, between the visits of the neighbor’s grand daughter, I promise to enable more playful activities - both for my kids and for myself. I will search for play opportunities in the daily activities at work and at home. I will remember to close my computer and grab my guitar. I will make it a fun event to tidy up at the end of the day. I will lead by example being a playful parent and teacher, always finding new, playful ways to interact with the kids. - And I will definitely continue to enjoy my kids on the loose in pure creation.
Last but not least, I’ll recommend to everyone reading the hugely inspirational book of Stuart Brown!
The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination - Albert Einstein
Have you tried:
Speed tidying up
Tidying up with storytelling
Tidying up with a song
Goofy walks tidying up
Etc. - your turn to invent one ;-)