A 7-year-old hangs on the store counter like a little monkey. A 5-year-old constructs a Great Wall of Macaroni & Cheese on her dinner plate. A 2-year-old climbs into the big box that his birthday present just came in. (Or was that just my kids? Ahem.) Children are full of play, and their world is their playground.
From babyhood, we play with our kids to connect with them. (Plus, let’s face it: We want to see those precious baby-smiles . . .) As it turns out, Peek-a-boo is a valuable game that teaches babies about object permanence. Mommy’s there, then she’s not. But she’s really still there, even though I can’t see her. Stacking blocks develops coordination, and knocking them over shows cause and effect. Hey, that’s fun! We teach kids to play, and then we spend the rest of their childhood telling them to stop fiddling with that pyramid display of oranges in the produce section. (Or was that just my kid?) (Again?) Play answers the question, “What happens if I . . .?”
How many times have you been waiting in line at the post office, bank, or grocery store, and you hear a parent say to their child, “Stop playing with that!” Remember, children are not small adults. They’re going to try to play any chance they get, and they really don’t care where or when they do it. Have you noticed that when they’re supposed to be quiet, kids will often giggle with each other? Being silly is the play leaking out! They haven’t yet developed the self-restraint to keep it in. So we teach our children and grandchildren that there’s a time and a place for play. A youngster yelling, “This is a stick-up! Hand over all your money!” at the bank is discouraged. But a good game of I Spy at a restaurant while waiting for dinner is an acceptable way of playing in the real world.
So when the nearest child is heading for that mud puddle with no rainboots, just watch. And maybe move away from the splash zone. You’re about to experience some learning. “What happens if I . . .?”
When you were a kid, what did you play? Did you ride your bike in circles in the driveway until you were dizzy? Did you dress up in Mommy’s special “going out” dress and serve tea to your dolls and stuffed animals? Did you treat your teddy bear’s “broken arm” with an entire box of band-aids when he fell off your skateboard? Yeah, me too.
As it turns out, play is really a child’s work. It may seem like kids are just doing silly things sometimes, but those silly things serve a purpose. Dizzy driveway circles taught us about physics, geometry and biology. Tea parties taught us how to share with others. Practicing medicine on teddy bears taught us to tie them onto the skateboard next time, so Mom doesn’t get mad when the band-aid box turns up empty. See how kids learn through play?
What are the children in your life playing? Healthy, wholesome activities like riding bikes and playing dress-up (not to mention practicing teddy bear medicine) help prepare little minds and bodies for the work of the grown-up world. Plus, getting dizzy is fun. Remember?