Thursday, February 17, 2011


This post is PART 2 of a series on PLAY, based on quotes from Stuart Brown's book "play".

"As they grow, kids are often taught out of (an) imaginative approach to play. . . . kids get toys that come straight out of hit movies or TV shows, toys that come with a preset collection of ideas about who the characters are and how children should play with the toy. This kind of preformed script can rob the child of the ability to create his own story. Instead, he is mimicking the expressions and lines that he is expected to say. A chance for imaginative flight of fancy is lost.
Authentic play comes from deep down inside us. It's not forced or motivated solely by others. Real play interacts with and involves the outside world, but it fundamentally expresses the needs and desires of the player. . . . All evidence indicates that the greatest rewards of play come when it arises naturally from within." 
Page 104 "play" by Stuart Brown.

As parents, we have probably all experienced the Christmas or birthday when we were so excited because we had the most wonderful, perfect present for our toddler. Wrapping paper off, box opened . . . and . . . shock, embarrassment, annoyance! The child seems more interested in the wrapping paper or the box than the present. The child is not being unappreciative or disrespectful - they're simply showing that they have a healthy, creative approach to play - a box or wrapping paper after all can be transformed by their imagination into dozens of fantastic things to play with.
We can equally be missing the right perspective on play with our older children too.
"We may think we are helping to prepare our kids for the future when we organize all their time, when we continually ferry them from one adult-organized, adult-regulated activity to another. And, of course, to some degree these activities do promote culturally approved behavior as well as reinforce our roles as "good" parents. But in fact we may be taking from them the time they need to discover for themselves their most vital talents and knowledge. We may be depriving them of access to an inner motivation for an activity that will later blossom into a motive force for life."Page 105 "play".

My hero, Charlotte Mason, knew this same wrong perspective from parents when she wrote over 100 years ago -
"But organized games are not play in the sense we (parents) have in view. Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay seiges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders (parents) must neither meddle nor make (direct them). They (parents) must be content to know that they do not understand, and ... that they carry with them a chill breath of reality which sweeps away illusions. Think what it must mean to a general in command of his forces to be told by some intruder into the play-world to tie his shoe-strings! There is an idea afloat that children require to be taught to play - to play at being little fishes and lambs and butterflies. No doubt they enjoy these games which are made for them, but there is a serious danger. In this matter the child who goes too much on crutches never learns to walk; he who is most played with by his elders (parents) has little power of inventing plays for himself; and so he misses that education which comes to him when allowed to go his own way and act (play). Page 36-37 "School Education": Charlotte Mason

So, why do we parents "meddle", "organize", "regulate", buy our kids "toys that come with a preset collection of ideas? Four possible reasons ~
1.   It could be that we've been swept along by the advertising of toy companies and want to keep our children materially up with their peers. I hope this one isn't you. Don't be misled by commercial materialism. As a person, your child is far more important than an object showered with state-of-the-art toys. There is always something new 'coming soon', so don't waste the money, because it's fake investment into your child's life.
2.   It could be that we're worried our kids may get bored so we help them along and direct their play. Refer back to "WHAT IS PLAY?" Post 29 - Stuart Brown's 4th point, Inherent Attraction, in his seven Properties or Play - he says that play is a cure for boredom. He is not however referring to parent's organized or directed play but child organized and directed play.
3.   Or we might see it as our role to teach our children how to play. The Charlotte Mason quote above warns that "the child who goes too much on crutches never learns to walk .... and has little power of inventing play for himself .... "  This child misses what is needed to develop normally, fully. A small child when learning to physically walk goes through weeks of independent attempts to walk - falling and all. All children must have their independent attempts and experiments in play too, otherwise we are crippling them.
4.   Another reason is that we worry about the risks when our children play outside parent/adult supervision. They could be heading into trouble... Parents have wrestled with this problem since the beginning of time. We do have responsibilities as parents to guide and instill habits in our children so they know how to live and behave appropriately.
A wise gardener when planting a tree sets it up well - digging around the base, weeding it, pruning it, training it..... but that time period is small in comparison with the years that the tree independently grows and matures in the air, rain and sun. We parents are like that gardener, we need to do the hard work at the start and establish good growing patterns.
"But part of being a parent is learning to accept the limitations of our ability to make our kids safe, successful and happy. We should strive for all these things, but eventually they will grow and learn to be their own (we all hope).
All parents need to foster that internally driven, self directed play that will allow children to become secure and self-confident on their own. There are risks to this sort of play, and the risks should be monitored and minimized. But trying to suppress free play or rigidly control kids' activities poses, in my long-term experience, a far greater risk to their future health, success and happiness." Page 108 "play" Stuart Brown.

The first paragraph of this week's starting quote mentioned another area where children's imagination is stifled in play. It is when play stimulus material is all set up for our children, robbing them "of the ability to create"their own play. It's not just preschool toys that offend and fall into this category. Gaming play, both on line and otherwise are all guilty here. The gamer's thoughts and decisions are continually guided along. This is play that is "forced or motivated solely by others" not individual creativity or the expression of "the needs and desires of the player"that have risen "naturally from within". So how can this pursuit help our children play? Or develop their growing minds and bodies?

THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ You may need to assess some play practices at your house. If this post has sounded like a big negative to you, and you don't have much of an idea of play alternatives which will benefit your children, revisit some of the great memories you have of play from your childhood, or ask the grandparents for ideas and get the kids PLAYING!

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