The Gift of Play

Yesterday, for our Sunday school class, I shared with the moms that one of the perils of today's culture is the dearth of play time for kids. Is it just me, or did you all play a lot when you were a kid? I remember some of my happiest memories was playing with the kids who came to take piano lessons with my mom. I think they liked that better than the lessons themselves! (Sorry Mom!)

It has been said that a child's greatest work is play. As a former preschool teacher, I fully believe that. As a homeschooling mom, that is something I strive to hold for my kids every day. As tempting as it is to fill their days to the max with every possible activity (and they're all good!), something in a child dies when they do not have enough time to play. Their demeanor droops, their energy level sinks.

Think about it. That's true for us too, isn't it? If I am constantly working, even cutting into my time to rest, I am not one happy mama. God made us to rest for one day, not work seven days straight. Looking at it in reverse, that is six days that we can work!

Unfortunately, living in America, the land of plenty, has seduced us into thinking that more is better. Is it really? While there is no sin in doing the best and making the most of our time, do we have to do it all? Most importantly, do our children have to do it all?

I think there is a downside of having our children in too many activities. First, our kids get addicted to a life of movement. They are unable to sit still or stand too much quiet. That can hamper their ability to interact and commune with God.

Second, I think that when life is too structured, they do not get the chance to stretch their creativity muscles. When everything is handed down to them pre-digested and they need to follow along with the class, they do not have the opportunity to struggle, stretch and explore. Instead of becoming the unique beings that God created them to be, they end up being just like everyone else. I believe play gives our children the opportunity to hone their interests and develop their talents, to know what they are good at, what they love to do.

So first of all, as moms, I think that one of the best gifts (and I say that with all of them, don't I?) we can give them is the gift of play. That is, give them time and space to play. I'm not saying you need to buy the latest and greatest, but to give them the tools they need to play. (Check out this hilarious article about the five best toys for kids. It just goes to show that the best toys do not need to cost a penny.) Our kids have had many great hours of fun with a tub of legos or paper scraps or sticks. Make sure they have time every day just to be a kid. I have a hunch that those may be the things that they will look back on with the greatest fondness in the future. A side issue is learning how to play with their siblings. (But I don't think I can go into that right now. If WWIII erupts when that happens, that's another issue to deal with altogether. File that away for another post.)

But not only should we make sure our kids have time to play, let's take time to play with them. I wrote a post on this when I first started blogging last year. I don't know about you, but my kids usually want me to play with them at the most inopportune times, like when I'm making dinner.

One of the things I have learned to do is to play with them first. Let them get it out of their system. Give them their fill of mommy time. I let them know that I have this amount of time to play. Even if they have no concept of time, I let them know that the next 15 minutes is just for them. And then I get into it with them! Goof it up!

This is true even when your kids outgrow playtime. One of my goals is to make time to play with my teenaged daughter. For her, it may not be about games and toys, but taking the time to create and do some crafts or girly things, like doing hair or nails. Whatever it is, play time is really about relationship time, not the activity per se.

I don't know about you, but I certainly don't want my kids to think I'm all about work. I want them to remember me as a mom who made time to let them play as well as to play with them. That sure beats the other option: a mom who runs her kids from one activity to the next so that other people can spend time with them.

What kind of mom are you going to be?