Let Them Play!
The recent 4th of July holiday provided an opportunity for me to spend an extended time with our 5 grandchildren. Children are such a blessing, especially my grands! I love their wonder and excitement about every new experience. One of the challenges parents and grandparents face is resisting all the voices that tell us children need structured activities to keep them engaged, such as summer camp, music lesson, sports, technology, and the list goes on. What children really need is time to discover the wonder of God’s world through unstructured play.
As part of my summer reading, I’m going through the book, Their Name is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World by Johann Christoph Arnold. He reinforces my belief that children need our love and time more than anything else. We need to be there for them (fully present), talking, listening, playing, and encouraging their growth and development. Too often, we become caught up in the idea that children need things to be happy when what they really need is a more relaxed schedule that provides the gift of time to play. Children learn through their play experiences. They exercise their bodies and use their imaginations. Play experiences provide children with opportunities to focus and engage for extended periods, face difficult challenges and failure, exercise critical thinking and communication, and develop essential skills such as courage, determination, grit, curiosity, and character.
"Too often, we become caught up in the idea that children need things to be happy..."
Arnold quotes Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, talking about what he wants for his son. “When Ellington was born, I was very much caught up in the idea of childhood as a race – the faster a child develops skills, the better he does on tests, the better he’ll do in life . . . [Now] I’m less concerned about my son’s reading and counting ability. Don’t get me wrong, I still want him to know that stuff. But I think he’ll get there in time. What I’m more concerned about is his character . . . I want him to be able to get over disappointments, to calm himself down, to keep working at a puzzle even when it’s frustrating, to be good at sharing, to feel loved and confident and full of a sense of belonging. Most important, I want him to be able to deal with failure. That’s a difficult thing for parents to give their children, since we have deep in our DNA the urge to shield our kids from every kind of trouble. But what we’re finding out now is that in trying to protect our children, we may actually be harming them. By not giving them the chance to learn to manage adversity, to cope with failure, we produce kids who have real problems when they grow up. Overcoming adversity is what produces character” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/field-guide-families/201209/how-children-succeed ).
As you think about what your child needs this summer in preparation for a new school year, here are a few recommendations:
Get them outside, explore nature with them, and share the wonder of creation.
Significantly limit or eliminate their time on technology (even educational apps) and help them discover that the real world is more interesting than the virtual world. Don’t allow technology to affect their social, emotional, and physical development. Instead give them opportunities to develop social skills, build relationships, exercise their bodies, and increase problem solving skills.
READ, READ, READ to and with them. Talk with your child about the content, ask questions, help them make biblical connections, and share how you both feel about the content. You could extend this with a great way to practice writing skills by keeping a journal or drawing pictures about what they read.
Provide real life opportunities to use and develop math concepts. Younger children might count and manipulate object from nature, measure water or sand, and look for patterns in nature. Older children could help with grocery shopping, budgeting money, cooking, and dividing food so that everyone has an equal part.
Make sure your children have appropriate chores and responsibilities that allow them to give back to the family. They need to feel they are capable, trusted and a valuable part of the family. When they see that their contributions are necessary for the success of the family, they feel a sense of worth. P.S. – Don’t pay them for their chores.
Find ways you can serve others with your children. It could be cleaning up the neighbor’s yard, serving at a soup kitchen, or making items for those in need.
Give your children quality time every day where they have your full attention. Nothing will express better how much you love and value them. If you don’t already have a family devotion time, start a new tradition. Spending time together in God’s Word, praying together, and sharing your thoughts, hopes, and feelings will bind your family together.
I hope these ideas are helpful and encouraging as you work with your children this summer. Maybe it will eliminate some of the pressure to do more for your children and allow you more time to be with them. The world is full of distractions and reasons to rush about. We must be diligent to fix our hearts and minds on the things of God and focus on living the principles of Deuteronomy 6:4-7, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Have fun this summer as you and your children grow closer to each other and the Lord.