Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Evolution of Play

As Noah has gotten older, I've been moved to think more about play and the roll it, ehem, PLAYS (oh hahah) in children's lives. Far from perfect or perfectly formed, I do have some ideas and observations that I've been wanting to share about the state of play today, and the big changes play has gone through in just one generation!

"Go outside and play" was one of those quintessential "Mom phrases", along with "Clean your room" and "Eat your broccoli". I've been told all three, NUMEROUS times in my day. Oddly, I don't have to tell Noah to clean his room or eat his broccoli because one, the universe has blessed me with a pint-sized neat freak, and two, the kid likes broccoli! The "Go outside and play" line though, that one, I say it a lot, and results don't come easily.

Play, inside or outside, using imagination or using technology, each version has its merits. I'm just struck with how differently kids play these days, from my time as a child. There is a whole new set of play expectations, possibilities and etiquette, and I don't know if these changes are all that great.

I think I should preface this with the fact that I really resonate with the whole Free Range Kids movement. We hyper-parent, over schedule and over worry about every little possible thing, every little possible thing that could go wrong. I'm guilty of the worry too, don't get me wrong. How could you not be concerned as a parent in this sensational, media-driven time? But, the more I learned about facts and numbers and the more I questioned why we do things the way we do, I began to realize that fear was driving my parenting decisions, not reality. Now, sure, a good dose of fear isn't always a bad thing . It makes us stop and think, it teaches us to be cautious, but it really isn't great to lead by. So instead I now come from a place of introspective decision making, with some good lessons in safety and common sense to balance out the nagging worries.

Check out Free Range Kids, and sites like Playborhood and Slow Family Living if you'd like to know more about a simplified way to parent in this fast paces world.

Ok, back to play. (That was just a short word about my parenting type, which inevitably effects my opinions on play.) So things have just changed. A LOT. When I was a child, honestly, I barely even remember my Mom. What I'm saying is, parents didn't hover over us all day, we had much more freedom, more responsibility, and higher expectations that 99% of the time, we lived up to! I would wake up on summer mornings and run outside to play with my brother and the neighborhood gang of kids all day long. We'd roam without shoes, walk to the corner candy store, and play kick-the-can through dusk and into the night. It was truly win-win, kids got to have fun and parents were able to work on what they needed to.

That's a big difference between then and now. These days, parents have less opportunities to focus on getting things done, and kids have less opportunity for unstructured play. Here are some more modern parenting pressures that I think are making this parenting thing a little more intense, a little more complicated than it has to be: the proliferation of constant Playdates, organized sports, giant birthday parties and scheduling of weekends and school holidays.

Of course I've been on playdates and hosted them and threw a big birthday party or two in the past, but all of these regularly happening, pre-planed, structured, parenting parenty kinds of things are changing childhood. And it was already pretty darn good to start with.

Maybe I'm being too harsh. Certainly playdates for example, are good and enjoyable things. I have to wonder though, are we doing our children (and ourselves) more harm than good, by making sure that they have every opportunity to do any enriching and social activity that crosses their path? Kids are rarely bored these days, and the same goes for parents, because frankly, they just don't have the down-time to be bored.

In actuality, boredom, might be.......... A GIFT! Have you ever heard that saying: "Boredom breads creativity."? I have, and I think it's true! So turning the parenting hyper-drive down a notch gives your children the time and space to be bored. It also takes pressure off them to be "on" all of the time. It's difficult to say "no" to fun things, for parents and children alike. If you're like most families, you're receiving a constant wave of playdate and birthday invitations, enrichment class advertisements, and soccer and basketball sign-ups. All good things, no doubt, but what is the right balance between healthy and burned out?

I think each child and each family is going to have their own, personal threshold. The most important thing you can do, is really take a step back and evaluate your current thoughts, and have a conversation with your kids.

I did just that recently, and while I thought we were very conservation about scheduling, I realized that I was scheduling too much for Noah's needs! (Mine too.) We keep weekends as open as possible, rarely do weekday playdates, no organized sports teams (if he wanted to, I'd let him. Noah is more into individual sports.) He chose to take two after-school enrichments a semester last year and the year before, Brain Games and Golf. When this year rolled around, Noah picked Chess and Computer Robotics. Great, fine, wonderful. Glad he's trying something new. Everything was going well, when he dropped a bomb shell four weeks in: "Mom, next semester, please don't sign me up for anything. I don't want to do anything after school." What!? I thought. But...but... years of Brain Games and Chess Club, only to quit right now when you're finally old enough for your school's Chess Team!? It was your goal! And computer robotics, that's like, like...... a thing that could potentially be a CAREER some day!

And then, I actually came back to reality and realized, OH. This is a KID. A six-and-a-half year old CHILD. What the HECK am I doing!? It's bad enough that we sent his little self into big-time second grade this year. I was not about to enforce more Chess and Computer Robotics. And so, I did not sign him back up second semester and I really think he's a happier kid for it.

It's good to teach our children to try new things, to have perseverance and determination. If you really look at their world though, you'll see that they're automatically trying new things and sticking other things out every single day. Like learning reading and writing and math. Working on those skills for months on end, never giving up. That's a life lesson in hanging in there.

One aspect of play that I'm still trying to figure out, that we're struggling with a lot is how much technology and electronics play is reasonable. I guess we had early Nintendo as kids, but for whatever reason, it didn't compete with the lure of riding bikes around the block. These days it seems that Wii is so much fun, that there are a plethora of kid-only, 24-hour television channels, hand-held Nintendo DS's, and alluring cell phone apps that make bicycles look almost second rate. I'm pretty moderate, I'm thinking moderation and balance is the key, but some kids, like Noah, LIVE for the next chance to spend some quality time mining raw materials and changing them into cyber worlds on Minecraft.

(Look! A Minecraft pixelated stone pick axe. NOT electronic.)

(Minecraft magnets. Yo boy, turn that raw material into something fine! NOT electronic.)
Electronics get a bad wrap, and I can truly understand why, but what do you do with a kid, who's honest interests rest in computers let's say? Surely I can unplug the electronics and send him outside. I can make him earn "technology time" by putting in "imaginative or creative" play time. Is this the way to go? What do you do in your home?

I used to spend hours and hours as a child, drawing pictures in my room. That's what I was interested in. I developed a skill. If I was wanting to spend hours and hours on the computer though, I have to think that wouldn't have been as ok. But.......when Noah is on the computer, on Minecraft, he is creating, like I was creating a drawing. So, is it ok to let him indulged? Or, would that be bad parenting?

(Wait! What do we have here? It's a Minecraft inspired DRAWING! This is a "Steve Puppet" that Noah came up with. Steve is his character in Minecraft. It counts as both electronic and non-electronic play. Mind boggling.)
I feel as though I've almost talked enough, no, too much about play tonight. I'll leave you with one little thing about a fun toy that might inspire the guy or girl in your life too!

For whatever reason, Noah really never got into most of the usual, popular boy things for each age and stage that he has gone through so far. Instead of Star Wars, Super Heroes, Transformers and team sports, he liked letters, numbers, chess, computers and Minecraft. Not your most exciting blend over the years (Thomas the Tank was a much welcomed sight.), but it was his thing, and I respect that.

(Awwwww. Baby Noah's idea of fun. :)

The ABC's.....Well, sort of. from How Bourgeois on Vimeo.

This is why I was very surprised and intrigued when Noah came home from school one day this fall and announced that he was "into Harry Potter now"!

Great I thought, this is good. Anything is good compared to his all consuming obsession with Minecraft. He began reading through the series. And reading, as you all know, is NOT technology. Score!
Then though, we a made a mistake. A big mistake. :(
Ok, so we let him watch the first MOVIE. Yep. What were we thinking? Then of course, the MOVIE became WAY MORE exciting than the BOOKS. So he got to the point where he only wanted to watch the movies, not read the books.
Why did we do that? I should have known better.

Anyhow, then something kind of good came out of all of this. It was Noah's birthday, and I thought he might like some Harry Potter Legos. Being Noah, of course, he never went with the flow and whole heartedly embraced the young boy Lego craze. So I saw this as an opportunity to get him both back on track with non-electronic Harry Potter AND into Lego play, which is creative play!

When my Mom asked what he wanted for his birthday, I meant to send her THIS link. But, I accidentally sent her THIS link. Oops! Sorry Mom. It was a huge hit and a huge Lego Hogwarts. It also sparked what seems to be a long-term love for Legos and many an hour playing and making up lego adventure WITHOUT a television or computer in sight!

For Valentine's Day, my Dad sent Noah THIS Lego Harry Potter "Hagrid's Hut". I found it to be incredibly adorable with it's little Lego pumpkins and little Lego mushrooms. It seem to be one of their most well done kits. Not too expensive and too massive that it takes up a whole corner of the room. If you're looking for a cute one with lots of tiny details, this is it.

So that's what I've got on play. I hope all of you have a fun, playful week! :)


PlayDrMom said...

This is a terrific post, Lauren! One of the most important things we can do as a parent is trust our instincts on what our and our child's needs truly are. Different types of play, activities, and the amount of those activities solely depends on that child, parent, and family. Comparisons are useless!

Lauren said...

Hey there, thanks!!! I really appreciate your input and support. That sounds good, I'm going to trust my instinct and try to stop second guessing so much.

And thanks again for the playdate. Lol.
I meant it. I was just complaining about over-scheduled childhood in general, not individual get-togethers. Those are fun! ;)

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