You have heard this all before—our kids are glued to big, bad screens, we never let them out of our sight in fear of “tricky” people, we hover like helicopters on playgrounds… how did we mess this parenting thing up so badly? Aren’t we the generation that biked outside until the street lights came on? We didn’t have cell phones and nobody got lost. We ate at our friend’s house, we bought chips and pop and ice cream all on our own, and we babysat for the entire summer at the ripe ‘ole age of 12. Our entire lives were make believe and adventures. This is where we learned risk, negotiation, failure, problem solving, creativity—this is where we learned life!
First of all, relax. Things may be different now, but change is the only constant. And, while there are many good reasons to promote play (which we’ll get into), how we parent today isn’t better or worse than how we were parented. It just is. With each generation and every parenting style there are pros and cons, so let’s take the pros and adapt them to our benefit rather than viewing the past through rose-coloured glasses. You’re doing fine.
As my kids reach the age of independence (or what our society tells me they are “allowed” to be independent), I love giving them room to just be. To climb trees, or bike out of my view, or put their feet into the river and get soaked. I love to take the parts of my childhood that I cherished and find ways to incorporate them into their lives.
So, why is play so important?
The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights recognized play as a right of every child because of its importance to optimal child development. Play develops:
- Physical skills. Gross motor skills are developed as a child learns to reach, grasp, crawl, run, climb, and balance. Fine motor skills are developed as children handle small toys.
- Cognitive concepts. Children learn to solve problems, enhance their memory recall, and lengthen their attention span. Children move on to higher levels of thought as they play in a more stimulating environment.
- Language skills. Language develops as a child plays and interacts with others, advancing to more complex concepts such as telling make-believe stories and jokes.
- Social skills. Learning to cooperate, negotiate, take turns, and play by the rules are all important skills learned in early games. As a result, children learn the roles and rules of society.
The one and only rule for caregivers when it comes to play is to promote it, not direct it. Play that follows too rigid of a structure set by adults doesn’t carry the same benefits as spontaneous, child-driven play. So, if we aren’t supposed to direct, how do we deal with hearing “I’m bored”?
- Go for bike rides, nature walks, explore your city and beyond, read maps, go hiking (http://takeahikewithyourchildren.ca)
- Create an arts and crafts corner. Pinterest is full of beautiful art stations but if elaborate isn’t your style, keep it simple. As long as there is a good assortment of markers and crayons that work in an organized and accessible space, kids will create. Give them some ideas to start them off.
- Dress up, Tickle Trunk style. Encourage your kids to put on plays and work together with siblings or friends. Flashlights and tents are usually enough to get the games going and, if they need help, give them quick ideas like a camping trip or a bear hunt and let them take it from there.
- Cardboard boxes are not just for cats. Endless days of fun.
Reading. Now, you might think this is not play, but it is so very important for a child’s creative self. At my house we often put the books away after reading and tell ridiculously long stories about our ideal day. Or we make up alternate endings like what would happen if Jonathan (from Jonathan Cleaned up—Then He Heard a Sound by Robert Munch) came to our house.
The key to all of these is to start your kids off and let them take it where they want to go. Providing a starting point isn’t the same as directing the play, and can be a useful tool in combating a case of the boredoms.
Of course, it’s way easier to play when you’re comfortable. If you’re constantly having to stop to adjust, twist, pull, or pick your undies, you’re seriously cutting into having fun. Check out BLOOM by Girl Gotch and ban the wedgie forever more—our undies stay put and are ridiculously soft, so adjusting them will be the last thing on your mind.