For most of us, our remembrances of childhood consist of hours spent with interconnecting blocks, dolls, action figures, fantastical worlds created in our backyards, and more. Slowly over time, free and imaginary play has become more rare and difficult to come by. I have read about free-range kids, nature deficits, and more, making me examine my parenting choices, as well as my choices in toys and activities for my children.
This article from The New York Times can provide an awakening for parents to examine how their kids play and the atmosphere provided for play in the home and outdoors. Since reading this article, I am less likely to be concerned about the use of certain toys and games, messes made, and activities engaged in. The biggest Christmas gift to my children this year was a large box full of arts and crafts supplies. I made these materials available to them on a lower shelf than they were previously. The shelf is raided every day for something different. My two-year-old daughter recently told me that she was going to use her pencil and notebook and write a story. My five-year-old son is frequently utilizing stickers, pencils, watercolors, and more to create colorful freighters, trains, and cars. Although freighters on the Great Lakes do not sport variegated colors, I refrain from correcting his color choices.
As an employee of a children’s museum, I have read a great deal of research on the science of play and believe that young children have one job: to play. Play develops far more skills in their children than parents realize. Social skills come from controlling their own impulses, negotiating with siblings and friends; verbal skills are developed; gross and fine motor skills are developed; mathematical, science, and reading interests are heightened when discoveries are made; and much more. For my children, I know that there will be time for sports, fine arts training, and other organized activities. But right now, I just want them to play, discover, run, and explore.
So, where to start? Here are some resources:
Katherine DeGood – Contributing Writer for Hazelnut Kids and Mother of Willem and Adeline