Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Importance of Play & Free Time

One of my childless friends shared this New York Times article Effort to Restore Children's Play Gains Momentum on facebook this morning.  The woman who shared this is a high school friend of mine who is a documentary filmmaker and she was HORRIFIED to hear what has happened to children's play.  This article incited A LOT of comments today in our group of friends on facebook: mostly horror at how schools no longer have recess; many were blaming this on how unsafe the world is today with predator possibilities; most were just upset that Blackberrys and video games have become a more prevalent source of interaction among elementary school aged children than playing a game, making up your own rules and and learning to work things out.  Several of my friends pointed to how every spare second of children's lives are spent on "structured" activities be it in school or extracurricular like dance, gymnastics, music, etc.

I have to say, for me, reading these reactions by my friends was vindicating.  It was liberating and freeing.

My girls have each chosen 1-2 activities a year that they want to be involved in.  One year it was dance and Brownies.  Another year it was gymnastics and Brownies.  Another year they chose ice skating and choir at church and Brownies.  Another year they took art classes at a local art school and sang in the church choir.  That was what we felt that we could handle and still keep homework and school projects and reading assignments in check.  And the girls could have time to play unsupervised.  Time for playdates, family game night, family movie night.  Sometimes family came for dinner or we went out to one of our favorite restaurants.  Sometimes we snuggled in bed reading.  The girls had time to play together and develop their sister relationship.  Sometimes the girls helped make dinner. 

I was actually criticized for this by other mothers in our town.  First of all, without doing several dance, ice skating and/or gymnastics classes a week, my girls would never be able to dance or do gymnastics competitively.  But my girls weren't interested in that and I found it sad that girls couldn't take dance to learn grace and have fun.

Secondly, I was told that my problem was that I liked to cook dinner and I needed to realize that Monday was for McDonald's and Tuesday was for Taco Bell.... I stand firm that homecooked family dinner are important for development of social skills among other things.  But that's a whole other story.

Third, I was told that it was "social suicide" that my girls did not want to do Pop Warner cheer.  We live in a very small town.  I grew up a few miles away in a very different town.  But where we live now is a small town and EVERYONE does Pop Warner.  Everyone.  But my girls were not interested.  I tried to get them interested, but they said, "No, thank you."  Pop Warner cheer, in our town, means practices 5 nights a week in August and you can not go on vacation or you will be penalized.  It means practices 3 weeknights and Saturdays from September to November with games every Sunday.  Parents need to sign a binding agreement that if their daughters make the competition in Disneyworld in December, that the parents will take their kids out of school and pay for their children to go to Disney in December.  In a way, it is social suicide because unintentionally the parents and kids who are together 10+ hours a week form bonds and connections, make plans and do things together and anyone who is not doing Pop Warner doesn't end up being part of these birthday parties and dinners and movies and things like that.  My girls would be disappointed that they weren't included, but not disappointed enough that they wanted to join.  One mother did approach my girls and try to push them and I was proud of how they handled themselves.  But, as any mother, I worried about the effects of not being included.

All of these things, in one way or another, were part of our decision to homeschool.  The homeschool community is far different than the public school community.  My girls have friends now that have similar interests to them.  Yet, I still have my concerns.  How will not going to school affect them?  Jason and I watched "Clerks II" last night and the whole time I sat there worrying that my girls wound end up with no ambition and be clerks at a Quik Mart or Mooby's for their entire lives.

But, as is often the case, what I need to read or hear or see finds its' way to me...and this morning, this article was just what I needed.

My girls have a lot of time to play.  This week, they organized an American Girl doll Village.  They took some pictures.  Here are just *some* of the many places that were part of their Village, which they named Pennyrock.

 a spa
 a bedroom

a school
Then, I showed them how to use the photo editing software on their computers:

Horse Stable

Then they posted the photos on their blogs:

My Life - P's blog

Now they are making a movie
about their village
which they plan to put on youtube.

Sure, technology was part of this play.
But they were creative.
They compromised with each other.
This was completely and totally unsupervised 
(except for showing them the photo editing software).

And they did learn valuable skills.

Of course, they also spent HOURS 
playing in the glorious snow this week, as well :-)