We have spent much of this summer taking some time off to relax a little, vacation a bit and simply enjoy the moments going on around us. Now it’s already back to school time; the kids are getting settled into their classes (at a local high school and here at home) and life is taking on a more regimented schedule than we enjoyed over summer. We really appreciated the more laid back atmosphere of summer, the lack of deadlines and the living in the ‘here and now’ of it all. How can we keep a little bit of this with us throughout the long school year? How can we keep from forgetting to take time out to appreciate what is going on right at this moment when we have deadlines that loom over us, projects to be completed, essays to write, soccer games (track meets, birthday parties, etc…) to be at and the never-ending visits to the grocery store that are now made increasingly difficult by the reduced flexibility the school year schedule provides us with? Add in trying to create healthy meals multiple times each day (no boxed cereal, donuts, or school provided lunches here!) and then getting it all cleaned up so we can do it all over again the next day, and we are left feeling like we have had little chance to connect and really enjoy each other.
A large part of this feeling is because we neglect to take time to play. We know that play is important. We try to make sure our kids have as much downtime as they need. We don’t over-schedule them. We give them space and we do our best to let them be kids – be adventurous, be silly, be upset, be frustrated, and even be cruel (We also encourage them to be forgiving, be communicative, and be empathetic, but truly they must experience ALL aspects of relationships to really understand and feel them; it’s all a part of growing up.). We give our children our support and let them go on their way. Then we busy ourselves with “adult” things to do. Shopping, cooking, cleaning, repairs, answering emails, paying bills, and even finishing up work. Soon it’s the end of the day, or the end of the weekend, and we feel as though we have had little downtime ourselves. What we are missing out on is play time for ourselves. Play isn’t just for kids. We never stop WANTING to have fun, we just find it harder to justify taking the time out to do so. Everything else must come first for adults. There are consequences if not. Soon we lose the ability to even know HOW to play. How to REALLY play. How to have fun and enjoy the moment without worrying about those pesky consequences. Our kids see this and learn from it. The pattern is set that adults don’t have fun. Except maybe on vacations. Earlier and earlier kids are quitting “playing.” They might “hang out” or “play” video games, but they are not really playing in the same carefree way that they used to. Is this because of what we are modelling for them? What can we do to take back our play time, and in turn, give more of it back to our kids?
Start small. Like so many things in life, starting small is a great way to go. My husband purchased several boxes of POP-ITS (a little firecracker noisemaker that you throw on to the ground to make a loud snapping noise) a while back, and he periodically tosses a one down when no one is expecting it. This usually results in a wide range of reactions and almost always ends with glee. They are a great way for us to connect and have fun, even if only for a moment. Get a whiteboard (or chalkboard or a window and window crayons), draw a stick figure on it and every time you pass it, add to the picture or change it. You might find that you (and the whole family) end up spending a lot of time with your little person (he/she must be named and have a pet and do things of course!). Just take a moment here and there to play a little.
Do something unexpected. Dance across the living room. Hop on one foot down the hallway. Jump and try to touch something just out of reach every time you go past. Remember back to when you were a kid, what did you enjoy doing that was pretty much pointless? Do it! Who cares if the kids (or spouse) look at you with wide open eyes?! Challenge them to an invisible sword fight if they have a problem with what you are doing. Secretly they will admire you and eventually they might even accept your offer of a duel.
Set aside time. This can seem a little forced at first, and requires a bit more planning (yuck), but in the long run, it can be a great way to get that rusty creativity moving again. Have a family art night where you cycle through various mediums. Clay, crayons, markers, watercolors – even try your hand at carving balsa wood into boats that you can later sail together. The focus should be on developing your inner child and having fun, so don’t worry if it doesn’t turn out how you had planned. No cheating here either, even DAD has to color with the jumbo crayons even though he might prefer to use a pen instead! Not into art? Schedule a night in for games or a movie. Everyone’s attendance & full attention is required, no exceptions.
Get out and play. Go for a bike ride together. Play some disc golf. Build a fort. Go to the park and climb on the monkey bars (that goes for moms too!). Go by yourself and just get away from it all. Stop and smell flowers. Read a book under a tree. Or, after making sure no one else is around, see if you can still do handstands and cartwheels like you could when you were twelve.
Whatever you decide to do, the goal is to bring back the carefree play of youth. Enjoy the moments, whether by yourself or with your family, and try to have more and more of them each day! Then tell us about it – we love to hear what you are doing!
Want some more suggestions on playing?
Check out the book Children at Play: Using Waldorf Principles to Foster Childhood Development – it is geared towards the Waldorf movement, but a really wonderful read with some great insight even if you are not a part of the movement.
Visit this great article on The Lost Art of Play from Mark’s Daily Apple. This one is geared more at adults – make sure you check out the related posts at the bottom of the post for more of his great insight!
Keep thinking that you are going to get around to all of this some day soon? Check out this great diagram from the Abstruse Goose that shows why today is the best time to start!
And finally, make sure to check out the blog of the NaturalKids Team, where you will find many suggestions for playing and doing, whether you are young or old! Stop by before August 11, 2011 and you can enter to win a Sweet Little Herb Pot from This Cosy Life!