I spend more time driving my kids to activities than I spend with them. How can I put the heart and soul back into family life? — Chauffer Dad, Edina
So my youngest turned 6! We hosted an English tea party for her kindergarten friends, played those classic birthday party games from times gone by and our entire family joined in the fun.
My oldest child raced around those Musical Chairs with the youngest, my 7 year old Flipped Fish with the frilliest, and my husband rocked the floor with some Simon Says while the kiddies followed along. While we readied the table for the birthday feast, our guests ran rings around the downstairs with their own game of Hide and Seek — and we let them! It was rollicking, rambunctious and wonderful fun — a night to remember. When Scarlett trotted off to bed, she said, “That was the best birthday I ever had!” And I couldn’t help but think she was right!
While Pump It Up, Skyzone and Bowling it wasn’t, child’s play it was, for everyone. Therein lies the secret of this party’s success. You see, in our Saturday soccer meets after-school ballet, tap and jazz kid world, it’s easy to forget that simple playtime can offer the best of times for our kids — heart, mind and soul — and it’s pretty good for us busy moms and dads, too.
So, how important is play for our children’s spirit? Important enough for it to have been designated the “right of every child” by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. It should probably have been designated the right of every adult, too!
The American Pediatric Society states: “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development and it helps children develop new competencies (such as communication and relationship skills) that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future events.” Professor Ann Barbour, a professor of Early Childhood Education at California State University, agrees: “Play helps kids develop and practice skills underlying success in school and beyond: self-control, working memory, persistence and following rules.”
The benefits of play are clearly immense, yet in my “playbook,” play encompasses far more than the stretching of muscles and minds. I see play as the door that allows the inner child within each of us, to sneak out and dance. And that is what makes play divine!
I began to see the blessings of play one inspirational, autumnal morning last school year. The day had just started badly. My oldest couldn’t find her shoes, my middle child wanted to stay home, my youngest yelled lustily as I brushed the tangles out of her long, flowing hair. The phone rang — twice. The kettle boiled over. The cat threw up. I was frazzled, frustrated and tired, and so were my kids. We sloped down our hill to wait for the bus, a surly crew. And then the magic began.
My kids asked me to play.
We ran zig-zag across September grass, zoomed beneath trees aglow in gold, clambered wildly over ancient rocks, circled round and back again, the craziest game of tag. Within minutes, the tears flowed — big, bald, beautiful tears that swam in my eyes and coursed down my cheeks. I cried with laughter, bent over, heaving with the fun of it all. Tears of relief, of respite, of resurrection! And my children swarmed over me, alive with love, pulsating with life. When the bus pulled up, we were a family transformed. Bonded together mind, body and spirit!
That playful interlude changed our morning routine forever. From that day on, it didn’t matter what had (or hadn’t) been accomplished in those early pre-school hours. Life was always rebalanced, reoriented and renewed as soon as we walked to the bus stop and began to play.
Child Psychologist Kenneth N. Condrell notes, “When children play with their parents and have fun with them, it increases their self-esteem and they cooperate more, because they feel valued and loved.” I say, “When children play with their parents and have fun with them, their souls soar!”
Of course, playing is fast becoming an ancient pastime — a thing of story books. Over the last two decades alone, children have lost eight hours of free, unstructured and spontaneous play a week. More than 30,000 schools in the United States have eliminated recess to make more time for academics. A study by Sandra Hofferth at the University of Maryland found that the amount of time children spend in organized sports has doubled, and the time children devote to passive leisure, not including watching television, has increased from 30 minutes per week to more than three hours per week.
Play has clearly been passed over for more sophisticated pastimes, but it shouldn’t. It has a role to play in our kids’ lives — for the health of their mind, body and spirit.
So tonight, if you do anything with your kids, make sure you play. Play make believe, dress up, or hide and seek. Play Scrabble, cards or chess. Play guessing games, singing games and mime. Have fun. And watch how your kid becomes a spirited kid again — full of joy, full of laughter, full of life. And notice how your inner child comes out to play too, and how rejuvenating play is for all of you.
- The Importance of Free Play http://pediatrics.about.com/od/activitiesforkids/a/1006_free_play.htm
- Can We Play? http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/can_we_play
- Less Work, More Play; Why Your Kids are More Anxious, Depressed http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/10/all-work-and-no-play-why-your-kids-are-more-anxious-depressed/246422/
- The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182.full
- Play, Creativity, and Lifelong Learning http://www.helpguide.org/life/creative_play_fun_games.htm
- Old-fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=19212514
- The importance of Play http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1987/03/the-importance-of-play/305129/