Monday, May 4, 2009

What's at play?

Gus and the small tractor (Thank You to the Struchtemeyers) happily off in toddler make-believe land...

...Gus and Pap's tractor: his other not-so-imaginary play buddy...
In recent weeks play has been on my mind. My dear friend, Brynn, who is exploring thoughtful learning with her own two boys and whose opinion on anything has always mattered to me and enriched my own views of everything, has turned me on to a lenghty study about the importance of uninitiated play in a child's development (meaning his or her entire life, not just childhood). It's an 80-or-so page thome complete with pie charts, scholarly language, prologues, mind-dizzying conclusions etc. but really it is an important topic to let the mind wander through and I'm glad I read most of it and have absorbed some of it.
Play seems like such a simple, inconsequental thing, yet one of the sentences early on the study tugged at my soul. "Children work hard at play."
That is so true when I watch my 19-month-old Mr. Mischief, who currently loves his big-boy bed, is being brave about weaning, enthusastically embraces potty training and is making his first shy attempts at drawing.
The above two shots, illuminate those special moments that I remember so well from my own childhood, when the world and all that's in it fall away and imagination takes over. Gus' face will go still, his eyes refocus and then he is off to a different place...making engine noises under the kitchen table or furiously "operating" Pap's precious real-size tractor as it patiently endures a feisty toddler's abuse.
He no longer sees or hears me, the camera doesn't bother him and as I watch he smiles, he is serious, he talks and he strokes, I imagine his entire brain lighting up in brilliant colors as he learns on all fronts...while I do nothing but watch.
There is play and then there is play. Flashcard are great and so is reading books and prompting activities, but as a new generation of the-best-parents-ever, I whole-heartedly believe that we tend to be a bit too hands-on. Children at an early age have curriculums to follow, classes to go to and parents' expectations to satisfy. I don't know how stressed a toddler can get, but I find the inability to play on one's own indicative of a lost art. Children who aren't ever given the time to play on their own, never learn to switch on their imagination and therefore never get to go to that wonderful place where no one - not even an overprotective mom or overly-energetic dad - can follow. It's a place where learning just happens - in my mind by divine inspiration or if you are so inclined by nature's principles.
Simply put we should let them play. Yes we all want smart, high-achieving kids, but they aren't made by flashcards and books alone. These little minds need to wander aimlessly, while we parents do nothing but watch and remember how good it feels to play alone.
There, I'm done for the day. Got all the momma-steam fizzing off.


The Wanderers' Daughter said...

I completely agree. There's so much emphasis on "socialization" these days - it's the word everyone parrots endlessly, as if it were the only important thing for kids to learn. But learning to be alone - learning to imagine and to extrapolate and to think on your own, that's something that is under-valued these days.

Growing up with two parents who worked in the home, I had a great deal of that time alone. Alone, but not alone, because my parents were there if I needed them. They were only in the next room. I never felt abandoned, but I learned to use my imagination, to read, to think, to be quiet and to create. That is something I consider invaluable.

I love it lately when I am working in my studio, and I hear a suspicious silence from the Q...this used to mean she was getting into trouble. But these days, I usually turn around to find her "reading" quietly on her own - studying her books with great focus. I just love that.
Great post, G!

Sara said...

Amen to that!