As many of us get prepared to jump back into our homeschool routines over the next week or two, I thought a reminder about the value of play, especially for younger students, might be a good idea. So many times we think our children should be working harder or spending more hours doing school, but we need to remind ourselves that their hours of playtime are valuable too!
“There is a danger in these days of much educational effort that children’s play should be crowded out [or what is the same thing] should be prescribed for and arranged until there is no more freedom of choice about play than about work. We do not say a word against the educational value of games (such as football, basketball, etc.) … but organized games are not play in the sense we have in view. Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make.” -Charlotte Mason
Even over a hundred years ago, Charlotte Mason spoke of the dangers of over-scheduling our children. I guess the idea of ‘much educational effort crowding out’ play isn’t a new concept. Isn’t it true that in our culture’s effort to make our children super achievers, we are doing just what Charlotte warned against? So many families have these crazy over-scheduled lifestyles that leave little time for kids to just be, well, kids.
I mean, as a culture, so many of our children are so incredibly busy that there is literally no time left for play. And by play, Charlotte Mason wasn’t talking about organized sports or swimming lessons or dance class. Nope, she was referring to that good ol’ fashioned free play.
The kind of play where you build a fort and bring snacks into it because, well, you’ll be stranded ‘in the middle of the woods’ a long time and what would you do without rice cakes and peanut butter?
The kind of play where you make up a theatre performance with your own homemade costumes and a castle setting made out of giant building blocks.
Just this evening I was listening as my (amazing) husband played in this way with our three children. The boys’ bunk had been transformed into Narnia’s Dawn Treader, and the battle was on. There was hollering and laughter and imaginations were soaring. It was pure joy to witness. And even deeper joy for the children as they took on the roles of Prince Caspian, Lucy, Edmund, and of course, the valiant mouse, Reepicheep.
This is the kind of play that children desperately need.
And yet, I believe it’s the kind of play so many children in today’s culture rarely get. I hate to do the whole “kids these days” rant, but, here we go. On a whole, kids these days aren’t getting enough time to play. Period. It’s really not more complicated than that – we just aren’t giving children enough time to be kids.
I think there are two main culprits in a child’s lack of time to play. The first is over-scheduling, as mentioned above. The second big problem is media overload. Unfortunately, so many children are so overloaded with screen time that, in many ways, they have forgotten how to play. Or maybe they never really did play. Or maybe they just can’t engage in playing because a beeping, binging, flashing screen is hard to compete with in the way of excitement.
Through creative play children learn more about themselves. They grow in confidence. They build closer relationships and friendships. They explore in a safe and fun environment. They use their ability to think and imagine. They grow exponentially in their ability to envision, create, and implement ideas. The act out what they know and what they are learning, thus reinforcing it within their minds and hearts. And – they have fun.
They make memories. The good old fashioned kind of memories free from pressure and first place prizes and measuring up.
We as parents need to never under-estimate the value of letting children be children. The importance of unplugging, making time and saving time for the kids to just let loose and play. Yes, play. In any way they choose. No screens. No teams. Just their imaginations and a wide open space made for dreaming.