If you were a child in the 1960’s your jobs were to go to school, do chores and play. There weren’t many expectations of participating in other activities until well into elementary school. Even then, it usually was an hour or two a week until your teen years in many cases.
Today’s kids live a very different life. They are in constant planned activities from infancy. There is very little if any time to just play like children used to play. Our kids are missing out on some of the benefits of free play that even teens used to regularly get. Some of those can also be impacting the spiritual lives of young people, too.
As the world gradually returns to normal, here are some reasons you should keep your kids’ schedules lighter and allow more time for free play. (Note: Free play does not include anything that involves a device.”
- To show their hearts. Mr. Rogers once said,”Play allows us a safe distance as we work on what’s close to our hearts.” The free play your kids choose to engage in can tell you a lot about what is important to them. What is each of your kids’ favorite way to play? What does it reveal to you about what is important to them? Does it show a loving or an angry heart? They may never articulate the things their play reveals.
- To try out new ideas. Play is a great way to safely test new ideas in a controlled environment. What happens when you build a tower of blocks and knock it over? How do others react when you are a grumpy store clerk when playing grocery store?
- To better understand things or problem solve. Play is a great way to begin understanding things that are confusing or try out different solutions to problems. How is that toy put together? How can I fix it if it breaks? How would my “mommy” doll respond if I said different things to her?
- Mimic what they see, hear and experience. Play therapists sometimes use play to encourage kids to open up about traumatic events they have experienced. In fact, if your child plays the same negative pretend game over and over, you may want to get professional help determining if your child has experienced a trauma of which you are unaware. On the other hand, how your kids play pretend games like “house” may give you an idea of how they interpret your marriage or your parenting. These may also be the qualities they carry into their future families.
- Sharing their faith. Kids who love church often choose to “play” church. It’s a way for them to practice the various acts of worship and invite friends to share in that part of their world. It’s faith sharing in its purest, simplest form.
- Gift discovery. Have a child whose toys are always organized? She might have the gift of organization. Kids often display an early aptitude that is actually a gift from God they can develop and use to serve God. If they appear to enjoy something and have an aptitude for it, consider providing things to help them to continue to explore and develop that potential gift.
What items do your kids need to get these benefits from play? The great news is that expensive toys are often the least helpful in providing benefits to children. Common objects like pots and pans, crayons and paper, sticks and rocks can give kids an opportunity to be truly creative in their play. And that’s when the benefits really begin to appear.