Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Once They Crack Their Heads Open, I'll Call You Back

I actually said those words to my friend the other day when we were talking on the phone.

My kids were enjoying free play, an open-ended concept some parents totally get. But it's also a concept a lot of parents struggle with.

Free play is when you give your child a chance to enjoy time all on their own. No classes, no teachers, no book-learning, just good old-fashioned play. But here's where some parents shy away: it can be messy. Or, your child may get hurt.

God forbid.

Children need time to run, dance, create adventures, and yes, even crack their heads open. It's what makes them children. The innate learners and explorers of our world.

Ahh... summertime. I just had to use this shot as it brings me comfort during these relentless winter months. And it shows my daughter enjoying free play on one of our hikes.

What is she doing that will improve her math scores once she starts school? Is she reading flash card letters and numbers as she picks dandelions and tucks them behind her ear? What about her ability to draw circles and squares? To some parents, free play like this simply doesn't make sense in their child's "development." To me, it's the best gift you could ever hope to give your greatest blessings, your children.

My children enjoy free play, and because of that, have no trouble figuring out what to do with themselves when I'm in another room. (Except if I pick up the phone. That's the one thing that calls out to them like a siren offering chocolate cake.) So I knew that when I told my friend I'd have to call her back they were about to start up a game of "Let's hold hands and wrap scarves around ourselves and spin as fast as we can."

And this is where parents get scared away. If the free play gets too rough, or involves play-doh or paint, or moving the sofa cushions to make a fort. All I have to say is:

Get over it!

But don't use free play as a placeholder. I get that it's hard in the winter when we're stuffing our kids in their snowsuits into 5-point safety harness car seats and wiping runny noses. We don't have much energy left to clean up the after-effects of free play.

But then, why else did we have children? They'll be grown soon and their little toys won't be around anymore. Don't miss this chance to let... them... play.

And if you're in that group of parents who simply don't understand how to free play (see, now it's a verb), your children can teach you.

The easiest way is to start with a game. Then sit back, and let your children take the lead.

You can be ready off to the side with an icepack.

© play101blog.blogspot.com, 2011-2012

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