I have had two interesting occurrences in the last week with the theme of children and play that have made me stop and think about what we are teaching our children and what values we are instilling in them about making room in their lives for play time.
First, we went to my son’s 5th grade graduation last week. The entire affair seemed a little over the top for 5th graders but I appreciated our principal for her comments that moving from elementary to middle school is a rite of passage and our children have fewer opportunities these days to celebrate these times in their life. We do need to emotionally help our children transition at these crucial points of growth and maturity. It is a mental leap for them to shift from elementary to middle school and I was glad to see that honored at this event.
The theme song was “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas, the cafeteria was decorated with graffiti and posters of the kids dressed in rock-n-roll gear. Two giant electric guitars framed the stage. The PTA moms went to town on the decorations. But that wasn’t what impressed me, it was the content of the program. Our children performed (sang and danced) to two songs and you could tell they were enjoying themselves. Several children spoke about what Saigling had meant to them and what they hoped for their own and their classmates futures. I was impressed with how well-spoken, articulate and passionate they were. But my favorite part of the program was when each child walked across the stage to get a certificate and a teacher read what the kids had written about where they wanted to go to college, what they wanted to be when they grow up, where they wanted to live and how they would spend their free time.
My son wants to go to Texas A&M (I think because his best friend also wants to go there, not because it is my alma mater) to study archeology, physics and engineering. After college he wants to sell weapons to the government. Now I have to tell you, that was not my proudest moment and I wonder if he realizes what the weapons actually do to people… I pray this is a boy phase he will grow out of and if not, I will accept who he wants to become. In his play time he wants to collect samples of EVERY rock and mineral on earth. He is quite a character, but so were the other 80 students who walked across the stage. Lots of girls wanted to be veterinarians, lots of boys wanted to design video games. All of them had fun ideas about what to do with their free time, except for two boys. These two boys said they would not have any play time because they would be too busy working. I was shocked. These are 11 year old children! What are they seeing and hearing at home that they think that is the reality of life?
Now I admit that I work too much and my kids complain I don’t play enough but rather than causing them to want to emulate that, they fight it! They intrinsically know how important play time is! My husband and I have made a concerted effort in the past 5 or 6 years not to over-schedule our children. Kids need down time, play time and creative time away from technology, and preferable outside in the fresh air. I have found that when left to their own devices, kids are creative and imaginative and enjoy each other’s company.
I received a disturbing press release yesterday from an organization called the Alliance for Childhood. They were talking about proposed new testing for KINDERGARTNERS that would intensify “Existing state standards for kindergarten and the early grades have already ramped up rote learning, didactic instruction, and standardized testing and nearly driven out hands-on active learning and play. The new standards will intensify these inappropriate and unhealthy practices.” They are proposing a withdrawal of the new proposed core standards. This is a controversial topic and you can read the entire article to form your own opinion here: http://www.allianceforchildhood.org/
I bring this up here not to ask you to work to change policy but to look at your family life. As our children are forced into stricter, busier, fuller days at school from the age of 5 and up, it will be our responsibility as parents to make sure they get that creative, free time at home. There are many studies, articles and years of research on the why play is important to children’s social, emotional and intellectual development. Not to mention that all of us need a break.
I encourage you to turn the t.v. off this summer, put away the Wii and other electronic games and play board games, get the craft projects out or just send your kids outside to play in the sandbox. Spend time listening to how creative and amazing they are. Let their minds take a break this summer to the extent possible with your schedule and their interests. If they are going to camps, let them explore new ideas, fun activities that they haven’t tried before. Get creative yourself and share your ideas here with other moms on how you are spending your free time.