Over the last year, I have learnt a lot about the importance of play, and my attitude towards it has changed completely. Don’t misunderstand me, I was never against it, I always encouraged our trio to do it, and having trained and worked as a paediatric nurse had a knowledge base about its importance and uses. However, what I hadn’t anticipated was that by the time I became a parent, the market would be awash with must have toys that were changing faster and faster, the ever expanding out of school activity programmes that our generation of parents felt we must get our children doing or else they are missing out, and the nature of the toys being directed at our parental vulnerabilities as being essential for learning and getting ahead etc etc. I think as parents now, we worry our little people will fall behind, and maybe this is down to us working more (and both parents as well – I returned to work when our daughter was just 6 months old; didn’t help she used up 2 weeks of the maternity leave snuggling inside me for longer than she should have!!), but also what we are being told all the time about learning targets and the tests they have to face. Last summer I read a fantastic book called “The idle parent” by Tom Hodgkinson, and it was suddenly like someone was giving me permission that I wasn’t failing if I didn’t have something planned for the day, or we didn’t race round activity sessions. Since then, over the past year, I have integrated unstructured playtime into our lives with gusto, making sure there is time everyday for them to just be and just play, whether it is at home, in a wood, or on a beach. Then with bringing our little lady out of formal education, the opportunities for her to play grew, as did her ability and enjoyment of getting lost in her own make believe world of play. All three now really enjoy their imaginative creative play both together and individually, and I can see how it benefits them so much. As I have been learning over the past year, play is such an important foundation for our lives for lots of different reasons.
Children who are good at playing build up their confidence and also their social skills, so they are more likely to be happier as grown ups. My three have definitely improved in their sharing abilities, and their ability to be able to negotiate their way out of conflict with each other and with friends. Don’t get me wrong, there are some days when it just doesn’t happen, and they scream at each other, but then there are the majority of times when they seem to show a maturity with the way they handle a situation. Their solitary play times (and all 3 of ours seek these times out, I think as a break from chaos and noise), encourages their independent thinking, and helps their emotions. As well as being good for emotional health, play is a stress buster, helping children live with lower stress levels, making their lives physically healthier too. Now our daughter will be heading back into an educational system (one which we are happier with in Sweden), and her new found delight and ability to play better, should help her in school as she will have developed cognitive skills that will assist in learning.
Another thing I have notice about my three over the last 6 months or so, since my education vs play beliefs have changed (and they were spun on their head, with me now realising they learn all the time through play, so very little “formal” learning is required), is that they have developed into more curious and confident individuals. Previously our little lady would worry over a change of routine, or anything big happening, and a good example is our move to Sweden. Issues that would have bothered her previously are not even on her radar now, and she seems to be going through this huge change with one big spirit of adventure, which is making us incredibly happy to see. So, even though she will head back into a school system, the 7-8 months she will have had out of the one in this country have made some dramatic changes in her, all for the better (and I have often written about these before). I will never regret having taken her out of school, and like so many others, I just wish I had done it earlier in her junior school life. Looking on the positive side though she has bounced back, a very happy, confident, and less anxious little lady, who is up for anything now 🙂 There have also been several studies that have shown, that the more playtime children have in school, the more attentive they become in the class room. The Scandinavian system seems to have taken this on board and is the back bone of their daily routine. But our answer in this country, to try and keep up with the happy successful children of those systems, is to drive our children harder with harder to achieve targets, and lessen their playtime/outdoor time. As well as all the positive emotional and physical consequences, play helps their growth and fine motor skills as well.
There are many, many more reasons for play to happen too (but I’d like to keep my readers awake 😉 !!). With all this is mind, I have come a long way in realising that the time I leave the children to their own devices, and listen to their imaginative play voices of their small world people talking, smiling to myself, is indeed not being a lazy mum or not being there for them, it is a necessity for their development as a human being – that and the fact it is just plain fun for them!!