Thursday, May 20, 2010

Kids Need To Play

I believe in playtime.  I think that when kids are playing they have the chance to develop so much of who they are going to become.  They are creative, they use their imaginations, they problem solve and they fantasize.  They act out their favorite story lines from books they've read and they get to role play and create fantastic worlds where they are the main characters.

I also believe in a strong sense of community.  In the past, we have lived in a commuter town in a neighborhood where the parents were both at work all day and the kids away at daycare.  When the families reunited at home they were so busy preparing dinner or getting ready for bed that they seemed to never step outside their front door except to mow the lawn on a Saturday morning.  That is not how I grew up.  And that's not what I want for my children.

So, since I believe in play and a sense of community, I take my children on daily walks.  Our neighborhood forms a complete circle and since we have no sidewalks connecting us to anything else, we go around the circle a lot!  The girls ride their bikes, and I push Sam in his stroller and we do this (on good weather days) in the morning, afternoon, and at night when we don't have softball or t-ball. 

We do this for the obvious exercise and exposure to fresh air.  But we also do this because we've found if you ever want to know your neighbors, you have to step outside.  So we go around the neighborhood and try to stop and talk to the neighbors who are outside.  We've met most of them and it somehow makes living here so much more than just a home -- it's a community.  And it's important for our children to learn how valuable this is.  That's why we plan and host a neighborhood Easter egg hunt and why we'll host a kiddie parade for the 4th of July.  Community is important! 

So, everyday when Sophia gets off the bus, she runs inside and grabs a snack.  Then we head to the garage, gather up all of our helmets and knee pads and meet our neighbor to go on an afternoon walk.  She has three children, so it's quite a spectacle for the two of us to go around the neighborhood with all seven kids.  But it's worth it.  It's critical to teach our children the importance of relationships, the appreciation of the land God created, and the importance of a healthy lifestyle.  It's not easy.  We have seven kids between us and the oldest two are seven.  It's a little chaotic at best and a walking disaster at worst.  But it's worth it.   After our walk, when time permits in our busy schedules, we let the kids play in our backyard for 15-20 minutes before we have to head in and start dinner. 

I'm not sure when the idea of neighbors playing together went out of style.  But it did.  It somehow surprises people to see all the kids playing together.  We get all kinds of stares and comments about how "brave" we are.  How sad.  It's rare these days to see kids out playing at all.  It's a terrible state of childhood play and it hangs in the balance of parents everywhere. 

Today I got an unexpected visit from the county health department.  One of our neighbors anonymously reported me for an apparent "unregistered or unlicensed daycare due to the daily observation of 6-7 kids playing in our backyard."  I'm not exaggerating even a little bit when I say I was in complete shock!  Our yard is fenced in and we have wonderful playground equipment that Chris built for the kids.  Not all of the neighbors have either of those so it's wonderful to be able to invite kids over and let them play.  I hope as my children grow older, we will always be the place where kids want to be.  I want my teenage childrens' friends to WANT to be at my house hanging out.  I want to truly know the friends that my children spend time with because they will be some of the biggest influences in their lives. 

I quickly explained to the case worker that for about 20 minutes we have the neighbor children over and at all times both moms are outside sitting on the patio talking and supervising our children.  Anyone who can see into our backyard can also see us sitting out there together.  She was apologetic and frankly didn't appreciate our anonymous neighbor who was wasting her time (and taxpayers $$).  But I digress. 

My point here is that it should not be shocking to see children playing together.  It should not surprise people that we choose to step outside the comfort of our homes to teach our children how to be children.  How to play.  How to form relationships.  How to appreciate what God has given us.  How to make a community out of wherever you are.  And how to live a healthy lifestyle.  We should not be considered "brave" for doing so, but simply fulfilling our responsibility as their parents. 

Here's hoping if you have kids that you take the time for play.  Don't get too caught up in signing them up for every sport, music lesson or dance team. These are all important but cannot take the place of childhood playtime. Take time to encourage play and the creation of meaningful relationships.  Your children deserve it!   

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