Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What does PLAY look like for kids today?

Thankfully, this picture is not the case in OUR social circles!!! Our kids know how to PLAY.

Which picture of childhood are you providing for your kids?

Our co-op and frequent play days with homeschool friends definitely look like 1984. And we intend them to.

In fact, it's one of the driving forces behind our choice to home educate. Children truly need a healthy balance of unstructured time! Kids need time to run, race, climb... to explore. To imagine.

I'm often befuddled by how "mainstream" families find the SPACE needed for real, authentic play. It's sad to think that maybe, they don't. And they don't care to. I'm not at all saying children who are not homeschooled don't know how to play. But our society is so much caught up in the nasty habit of RUSHING children. Our culture doesn't invite time for children to play. And we, as adults are "plugged in" too much. Do we set an example for kids to use their imaginations? To just... be?

When I worked full-time at the newspaper and there would be a snow day, or a really hot day, I would grab my camera and head out---in search of kids to take pictures of. To capture the weather-related news. I would drive through town, and neighborhoods, looking for families. Outside. Enjoying life. I was always hard-pressed to find any. Where were the sprinklers with kids running through them? Why were the pools in people's backyards so often empty? Where were the bike-riding, fort-building, sled-toting children?? I'm telling you, when I was a kid you couldn't KEEP US INSIDE!! If there was a snow day, that meant sledding. That meant snow fort building. My mother had to have at least two pairs of snow pants and gear for each of us, because for hours in the snow we'd soak them through before we were ready to come back in! So we'd stop playing just long enough to get dry gloves and snow pants, and head back out. In the summer, you couldn't keep us out of the pool or the slip-n-slide, or the swing-set, or just tag!

My kids and their friends, KNOW what it means to enjoy fun and fresh air, in all seasons.

The answer to where the kids these days had all gone saddened me. They don't play outside anymore. On hot days, they are inside, in the air conditioning, playing video games. On snow days, it's too cold to want to go out. Electronics and stuck-up climate control had essentially stolen the American childhood. And parents had become conditioned to think they need to provide entertainment for their kids. Something to DO. An event or activity to attend. Suddenly, fun, and play, weren't simple things that kids could create on their own. They had to be scheduled, and shuttled to, and structured about.

The balance, or lack of balance, with the schedule of public schools doesn't help, either. I'm sorry, but recess at public schools is a joke. Fifteen minutes, if the weather is nice, and if you pretend to eat your lunch fast enough, isn't long enough to hang on the monkey bars 'til you feel dizzy or engage in a proper game of kickball or four square. If their after-school time is then filled with a couple hours of homework and/or soccer and swim practice... then WHEN?! When do they have time to just be kids and play? When do they have time to discover? Because you can't get lost in your world of imagination in 15 minutes. Creating the world of play takes hours of quality time. And that time is not valued by our culture. Not enough for parents to claim it and demand it. If quality play time was valued, people would see that the more time kids have to explore, create and imagine, the more purpose-filled and quality becomes their time for structured lessons and learning. They absorb more and retain it, when they have the non-rushed space to do so.

Sure, we have extra-curricular activities in our family. We enjoy soccer, gymnastics and scouts, along with our co-op, field trips and sleepovers. But that's because we homeschool. Our days are at home. We enjoy a slower pace. My kids wake every morning at their leisure, when their bodies are rested and ready to rise.
Our days are filled at home, with plenty of rest and play. We paint and draw. We bake and we pray. We feed chickens. We read on the couch with cats in our laps. We play in the yard with our friends for hours at a time. We play dress-up. We make-believe. We carve out time, every week, to DO nothing. To just be. To go absolutely nowhere. To process and find peace from whatever we did the day before, and find harmony for what the next day will bring.

We live! To every purpose. And play... real play, should be a priority. It gives us purpose. Take a stand against the culture that wishes to steal that purpose from your children. Give them the gift of authentic play. They only have one childhood. Unplug, slow down, and let them live it.

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