The world has been a much quieter place over the last few months. We’ve adopted a new rhythm of life due to what my husband refers to as “the recent unpleasantness.” It's a quieter pace, a slower pace. We’ve lost track of the days. We live in a society that is driven to running here and there. Many of us think if we are not taking our children to sports, music lessons, dance lessons, etc. that they are going to fall behind their peers. What we end up with are families who never eat meals together, and parents who drop off to sleep at night within seconds of hitting the pillow.
Please don’t get the wrong impression. I think extracurriculars are great, but when I see a three year old being dragged to soccer practice five days a week or a 15 year old whose abilities don’t match the activities, I have to ask the question: Is this in their best interest?
I do understand hard work and athletics. Both my husband, one of our sons and I were D1 athletes. We’ve competed at very high levels. I could argue that a young child doesn’t yet have the physical ability to do the things coaches require of them, but what I am going to propose is even more important. If young children are not permitted, even encouraged to just play, they actually lose out on some aspects of cognitive development.
According to a clinical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children.” Play is necessary for children as it allows them to use their imagination, to interact with the world around them. They learn to work with others and develop skills for life.
Before modern day agriculture, in the days of hunters and gatherers, children had a very different way of life. They would often accompany their mothers to gather nuts and berries and play along the way. Nature became their tutor. As they interacted with the world God made, they dreamed up games and, through play, imitated what they saw their parents do. Playing doctor, playing “house,” playing “store” are all worthy, meaningful pursuits for young ones. I have never seen a stick that a little boy could not turn into a spear or a corn husk that a little girl couldn’t turn into a doll. Children are so inventive. Just the other day, my grandchildren called to show me a fairy garden they had made from sticks, rocks, flowers, and leaves. It’s fun now, as they are getting old enough, that I can actually tell what they are making. Children take ordinary tasks that adults see as work and actually turn it into a magical world of make believe.
Now that my children are grown and have their own families, I see things in a different way through my grandchildren. As a parent I felt so much pressure to make sure we were providing the best for our children. I still think that is important, but I see the opportunity a bit differently. Children have so few years before they, like us, must assume the complexities and difficulties of life. Just yesterday, my granddaughter FaceTimed me to show me the bird’s nest she could see out her window. She squealed with excitement. You could hear the wonder of life in her voice.
We must make sure we give our little ones the time to explore the wonderful world God has given us through play. This includes children as old as fourth grade. You will be pleasantly surprised at all that they learn and you might find great enjoyment, yourself, as you contemplate (with them) the wonders of God’s creation.
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