My kids live a play-heavy life. They make up dances and shows, build trains and play pretend. Both of them have baby dolls that they carry around and are ‘raised’ by their respective parent-child. I want them to be able to make up games and stories and play the way they want to. As part of this, I’m fairly free-range when it comes to watching over them in the house. The bathrooms stay locked, mainly so Mayhem can’t flood them (again), but they have free access to the upstairs. It means that sometimes their rooms are totally and utterly destroyed and they mess up stuff in my room. However, it’s giving them time to figure out how and what they want to play.
Just yesterday, they went upstairs to play while I made dinner. Twenty minutes after I sent them up, I went and checked on them. (Yes, I let them play that long unsupervised.) The had an entire story about a princess rescuing a dragon from a knight with Mischief as the princess and Mayhem as the knight. The dragon was played by several different stuffed animals. It’s not a game I would have come up with if I were directing what they were doing.
Adults, myself included, have decided to break play down into its parts to see its value as a learning tool. We need it to mean something, to educate kids towards something. College prep is always on the mind of grownups these days. When I was ‘helping’ them play, I was too involved; their creativity was interrupted by my ideas. Since I’m the parent, my suggestions are the ones they’re going to default to. It was only when I stepped away that I saw just how wonderful and elaborate their play can be.
I take some heat for this. We’ve had people ask if we even know what they’re doing. (Not always, but I’m keeping an ear out.) People have said to me that I don’t deserve to have kids if I’m not going to watch them all the time. My question is why do I always need to know exactly what they’re doing in their child-safe room. Yes, they’re going to get into mischief and there’s going to be some mayhem. Two kids left to their own devices will create some havoc. However, how are they supposed to play pretend and make things up with an adult voice always in the background dictating and supervising everything they do?
I’m reading Erika Christakis’ The Importance of Being Little and she talks about this. On page 155, she says, “Once again, we see an adult encroachment of play habitat…The resulting message to a young child is that she can’t really enjoy life without big people always there to coach her through it.” I won’t be around for every moment in their lives. Even now, there are times where they have to figure things out on their own with kids their own age. I can’t always step in and save the day. My girls will have to create and think and problem-solve on their own. I could monitor every moment. I guess there would be fewer fights. There would also be fewer giggles, less silliness, and a more structured environment to their free-time. If it’s structured, is it really free? There would be fewer lessons learned about dealing with someone else. Handling social situations is one of the most important things that they learn from play. Why take that away from them?