I have had this post rumbling around my head for about a week and it is just jumping to get out… so here it comes… My opinionated opinions are launching themselves, yet again!
So many people say to me: “Well kids just don’t know how to play anymore?” And they leave it hanging waiting for me to fill in the gap… Of course I can’t! I am not entirely sure what it is they want me to say, except that “Of course kids know how to play! They just need to be left to their own devices and you will see that they know exactly how to play…”
Anyway, the question should rather be “Why don’t children know how to play?” They have more toys, more games, more activities, more child-focused sports, classes of every kind… In fact more professional adult attention in the name of fun than ever before in the history of man… and yet have a look at these little kids: They are like little robots… dropped at their first activity of the day before their parents get to work and getting collected only long after their folks are finished at work… In fact the nature of their days is that they spend more time in “their kids workplace” than the adults in their lives spend at work. Food for thought.
In the quest for kids to get ahead and for them to achieve younger and younger, to find their niche in life… How in the world will they ever be a musician if they only start music at nine? How in the world will they ever achieve that sports scholarship to college in they aren’t on the football team by eight? Whatever happened to long winsome summers doing a whole lot of nothing except playing hide-and-seek and reading comics… certainly not going to get your kids ahead like that. It’s really quite daunting and I am just the mother person, it’s not actually my stress or my future it’s theirs…
So here you go Se7en things that help to stifle play and what works for us:
- Mega Toy-stores: There are two types of toy stores in our part of the world, let’s start with the massive… Full of shelves of plastic flimsy stuff that you wouldn’t want to cross your threshold. Once every other year I have a serious mother guilt attack and head for one of these. My kids are missing out on so much, really I need to just have a look at what they are missing out on! So we head out like ducks and venture in… to see mountains and mountains of mindless breakable toys, heaps of mindless characters that I wouldn’t want my children to emulate and I have to wonder “Is there a market for this stuff?” where does it all go at the end of the day when the next shipment arrives and nobody was stupid enough to buy the first shipment. Needless to say we walk the aisles my kids are pretty gobsmacked by the sites before their eyes and much as we would like to buy something to remember the trip by we inevitably find – well nothing! Not for lack of looking, but nothing looks like the best option and away we go for the next looong period of time. Not to much fun there!
- What works for us: Stay away from the store – what they don’t know about they can’t want. That works for me too! I realize my kids are seriously deprived (hardly) they seldom visit toy stores. The local supermarket, the bookstore and the ice cream spot are our haunts. And the fact that some of their friends have heaps more fabulous things than they do is quickly counterbalanced by some of their friends who have a lot less than they do – The joy of living in a first/third world country is that you learn early on: some people have more and some people have less.
- Small Educational-Toy Stores: these are the second type of toy store. Now these are full of the most wonderful looking wooden toys with only felt attachments, that cost more than life and limb… but they are pretty durable, so we suffer the financial hemorrhage in the name of a good toy. My gripe here is not so much the type or quality of toys but the whole educational-ness of it all. We were in one of these the other day on a pre-birthday exploratory trip – only to discover that every thing had an educational twist literally… As each kid explored a toy I was told the wonders of the manipulative dexterity my children would gain from these toys… Hood #7 opened a jar of threading beads – well even the jar was touted as excellent for wrist development… forget about the shiny fun within!!! Hood #4 was intrigued by a magnet set – fuzzy felt for modern kids, I may even have fallen for it, he was loving it so, until I was told that the modern child wouldn’t be able to learn depth perception without it: Tell your child to put the car before the tree, the house behind the wall… needless to say I didn’t get it and he lost an opportunity to make some fun magnetic pictures on the fridge – we should make our own – for sure! The fun was literally whipped out of each toy. I really think when it comes to educational toys and things like lollipop sticks that are touted as math manipulatives… I don’t think so: the only thing being manipulated is the consumer: a lollipop stick is just that and give any kid a pile and they will do something fun with it!
- What works for us: Stay away from the store – We browse on-line and make a little list of favorites and then dash in and get them before the fun can be manipulated out of them. Apart from that any mother knows the best toy in the world is a pile of mud and freedom to do what you like with it. Or a pile of blankets to make a hide-out… I notice they aren’t selling those in any toy-shops.
- Trips to the Library: Used to be a wild explore one evening a week… and sit yourself in a corner and read yourself into oblivion until everyone had picked their books. I think visitors to libraries expect kids to be perfectly behaved “no-excitement please, we are in the library”… they talk loudly to their friends, they drop books, they scruffle through pages, they talk on their phones in hushed tones… but kids may not even exclaim with joy at a new find without a growly look. Anyway trips to the library have now been made FUN, with story time and activities that poor mothers are expected to craft… the father person taught me this: Don’t get sucked in… sit there and read a book the kids will soon get into the activity themselves. Our kids have come home with the most amazing pieces of something… other kids have gone home with perfect hand-made pre-cut adult-stuck daren’t color (we gotta dash) crafted objects… Why do kids need to be entertained in the library for crying out-loud aren’t books entertaining enough. I am glad libraries are making an effort to draw people in but I think they should keep books as the president and not bother with entertaining… not every kid is a non-reader waiting to be dragged into the world of books.
- What works for us: I take the kids one or two at a time, en masse is definitely frowned upon and I just can’t stand all the glares and stares… the library is actually a complete nightmare, people assume we are stealing half the books (no we have cards like anyone else) – um they take six books for each of their kids but apparently if you have more than two kids well then no you should only have 6 books in total. Some of the librarians are fabulous and actually engage the kids and ask about what they are reading and for them I think we should put a banner on our heads: “We are actually welcome here – kids and all!” Also I make sure that there are no kids activities on when we go, my kids have activities at home I want them to revel in shelves and shelves of books and the smell and the stillness and all the good library stuff!
- Activity Classes for Tots: These are touted as “music and movement classes,” just a glance through the local newspaper will leave any mother reeling in guilt – if your child doesn’t attend anyone of the million classes available well they will never have the internal rhythm to write their name let alone a manuscript or heaven help us a best-seller by fifteen. And yes they are kids that write best-sellers at fifteen but chances are that my kids are ordinary and will just live their lives and do whatever comes naturally regardless of rhythm and movement. Heaven help the four year-old, and I have had a few… who just likes to sit on the floor and smash pots and lids and wooden spoons around… If the poor kid shows even the slightest aptitude: nodding to a song in the radio, or whatever they whipped straight into special classes… horrors if your child can’t read music by the time they are five because they will never ever have a musical career… Actually every adult musician I have ever asked (and I do ask just to be a bit cheeky!) “How old were you when you started your instrument?” The youngest of them have all been around nine or ten and most of them even older.
- What works for us: we listen to all kinds of music together, We sing along/dance along to music together. No it’s not all Bach for babies and other sweet sounds, it really is a smatter of everything, if we like it we play it. We have an array of better than junk instruments to play with… I don’t mind if they can or can’t read music (a skill they can learn later!), I don’t mind if some don’t like opera and others love it… I am giving them a taste of the world – If they want to pursue it then so be it! Otherwise, it’s hard but I have made my kids wait. They may start music when they are about nine. Most of their friends start around five, with a whole lot of diatribes about talent, but by the time my kids start most of their friends have fizzled out of their favorite music activity.
- Ball Classes, Dance Classes, Every Kind if classes for Tots: Much as these classes are touted as fun and games but they are really all about performance and it’s not even in disguise… at the end of each term you will get a cute little report card saying your child is average, average, average… maybe exceptional at one or two things and less than exceptional at one or two other things… You can’t help feeling your kid is average or worse after that… Hello we are the parents and we should think our kids are exceptional and if we don’t then someone is stealing our magic… And when it comes to dancing much as kids love it they spend months having extra classes and special practices for the end of year concert and for all these extra hours of schlepping and costume making your child is going to bounce around on the stage for thirty seconds being a bunny, duck or whatever – very edifying!!! If you are into and you love it fine… but these classes are not going to be what makes your child an Olympic ice-skater or National Soccer player… their passions will rise up anyway… They will! And you will be left in the trail as they dash towards their own chosen goals. You can either cheer them on or be upset that they didn’t follow your dream – I for one would rather cheer my kids on.
- What works for us:
I consciously try and avoid anything aimed at tots… my first two did ball classes – I tell you what they were just stressful. I had to learn that kids are just as happy to kick a ball around a field. We found a really low key tennis couch that took a couple of them for an hour once a week. I don’t think they learnt a stitch of tennis but they spent an hour once a week learning how to take turns (you would never learn that in a family with se7en siblings!) and play the most wonderful games that we still play to this day… The best thing though was that the tennis court was at the beach (we have a tough life here in Cape Town) and I was forced to get take my tinier tots to the beach for an hour every week – rain or shine and we had the best fun…
- What works for us:
- Sport: Kids don’t spend their summer playing sports with friends anymore… they go to special training. We spent entire summers playing cricket on an open field. Now you go to special training. When we weren’t playing cricket we were cooling off, chasing each other round a pool, now you have special swimming squad… I don’t know everything is so special but not much fun. My kids did cricket for a while but by age ten you had to have a sports bag bigger than your body filled with equipment and my left-handed kid spent an entire summer in the nets being “taught” how to bowl with his right hand… Even I can see, though I made him go the distance and finish what he had committed to, that it was not a whole lot of fun, rather a weekly dose of humiliation! And even ordinary things like running and the heady feeling of vanquishing the world as you out-strip a friend has gone because for the sake of self-esteem we no longer compete (very real world I know!) against each other… but against the clock… how on earth are you supposed to learn any sportsmanship from that – oh! We aren’t… winning at all cost regardless of our opponents is a far more important life-skill. And yes our kids do look cute in all the gear and all their equipment and yes they appear to enjoy their weekly practise, but the fun stops when it become three nights a week and games and special practise in case you make the next level and if you don’t attend well you can forget about a career in said sport… Who said anything about a career – can’t it just be fun?
- What works for us: My kids spend hours getting exercise everyday… running and chasing and hide-and-seek… swimming in summer and cycling and skateboarding for hours. So exercise is not the issue. As for sports I try and find alternative, non-traditional stuff for them to pursue… mountain biking, rock climbing, boulder hopping down a river – great excercise, fun and certainly builds athletic little bodies… they have each had at least a term or two playing the most popular sports: cricket, soccer whatever so that when they gather with friends they know the rules and how to play… that’s all they need to know until they show a burning desire to follow a particular sport as a career – How many of us parents are career athletes? Well to be honest my fingers are very athletic!
These are another name for mom’s-coffee group… Usually there is some sort of planned activity for the kids and then “free-play” while the mom’s recover with tea. Nothing leaves me stone cold like a pre-packed craft activity – what is that about. Never say never but I completley never think you will ever see a toilet roll craft on my blog… toilet rolls belong on the toilet and then they go into the recycling bin… they are not rockets, cars or hanging nests – they are toilet rolls – that’s it the end. We have had kids come round for a play date and they look at me and say: “What’s our activity?” and I ask “Well what are you doing?” and if they don’t know well I will say well I was planning to mop the floors while you were playing but if you would like to help me you are welcome… some kids turn in terror at the thought of work (child labor and all that!) but many kids join me they have never had the opportunity to wash dishes or scrub the odd floor, Yay for chores!
- What works for us: I understand that mom’s get lonely and want some adult company. So get some, moms need it but somehow in the whole world of Supermom’s we can only get it if it is in the name of an educational activity for our kids. No mother’s have needs too and our kids need to learn that they are part of a bigger picture. Not that they won’t have fun while you are having a mom’s morning but not everything needs to be about the kids. Just leave the kids to play: put the play dough out for tots and settle in for a natter and coffee nearby… For older kids just leave them to their own devises and believe it or not they will learn all the social skills that parents desperately want them to learn without any adult intervention. Obviously you get involved when their is an emergency but mostly they will get along just fine. As for crafty stuff… our craft materials are on an accessible dresser… markers, crayons, paints and paper… the recycling is right their if they need boxes or whatever… and many a quiet afternoon has been spent with friends over, absolutely amazed that they are allowed to paint their own thing!!! Who would have thought!!!
I am not saying all classes are bad and all toys are manipulative. I am saying we need to think what our motivation is for all these goodies… Countless children the world over grow up to be exceptional adults even if they never owned an educational toy, even though they never went to a special educational activity. And in our pursuit if giving our kids every advantage we are also stealing away a whole lot of fun and magic from their childhoods. We shouldn’t be amazed at a whole generation who cannot imagine anything – everything has been imagined for them. We shouldn’t be amazed at a whole generation of kids that expect too be entertained every waking minute of their lives, they have been entertained every minute of their lives. We cannot be surprised by a generation of kids that seek bigger and better thrills because they have done everything by the time they are ten and quite frankly they have tried every new experience and they are bored.
I think the best thing we can give our kids is time – free time, time to ponder, time to create and time to wonder. They will do the rest and who knows some of them may even grow up to be exceptional – regardless of their parentage.
Now I will return to my normal crafty posts! I just had to say all that! And if you haven’t entered our GiveAway yet this week then take a look!
I popped this post onto the Works For Me Wednesday Site – go and have a look there for all sorts of tips on absolutely anything.