Free Play- adventures in parenting

32 years ago I became a know-it-all mom.

I delivered annoying Ted Talks to anyone who would listen. I went on and on about how to

  • stick to a daily nap-time
  • pick out educational toys
  • maintain a safe and sanitary environment
  • serve nutritious meals three times a day.

Fast forward four kids later.  I couldn’t remember to wipe the drool off my face in the morning much less how to mold a child’s future.

My kids filled all the thinkable space around me

  • tearing through the house
  • making lots of noise
  • drawing blood with toy rakes and shovels
  • turning building blocks into wooden bombs
  • taking dolls prisoner

and scribbling treasure map after treasure map in hopes of finding buried gold. (I know, their approach to treasure mapping can mess with your head. I advise that you just keep reading and try not to draw any maps of your own.)

My husband and I did the after-school enhancement thing. We shuttled the kids to swimming lessons, ballet, gymnastic classes, skating, soccer and football  practice. We did as much as one car and a tight budget could accomplish. Just an ordinary family desperately trying to fit into civilized society.

Once we got home my kids ran out the back yard and grabbed

  • tree branches,
  • worn out clothes,
  • old buckets
  • pots and pans

so that they could get back to the business of play, of creating crazy and dangerous  worlds over and over again.

What part of “lets be normal like everyone else” did they not understand?

Although I secretly admired their creativity, I was terrified that our parenting was not enough.

So I asked someone for parenting advice.

I didn’t know her well but I admired how she related to her kids, kids much older than mine. I hoped at least for some tips on organization and discipline.

What she imparted was so much more.

Kids need free play, she said.

IMG_2223

Don’t obsess too much on  programs after school she said. It’s more important that kids have time to play with

  • match box cars in the dirt.
  • Dolls on the porch.
  • Or read a book on the couch for a while.

Free play, she said, helped kids to relax, recharge and learn to problem solve.

img_1066

After that,  I started to see the benefits of free play instead of the mess my kids made.  There was a depth to their pretending that allowed them to dream and create. This unstructured time gave them a safe space to process emotions and explore their abilities. Their confidence grew as they mastered the art of creating their own fun.

Free play benefited me too. It gave me a few moments to eat that bit of chocolate or just sit and breathe in a comfy chair. This simple act of facilitating free play  also helped me begin the process of letting go.

Calm down. I didn’t let my six year old rent his own apartment or my three year old take the public bus to the library.  I let go of the urge to “make things happen” all the time. My kids began to develop their separate selves in small ways while still connected to mom and dad.

IMG_2377

Free play didn’t make me a parenting whiz. I had so much to learn. I still do.

The advice of free play did show me that wisdom shows up in simple ways and in manageable pieces. A glimpse of understanding when you least expect it. A talk with a friend. An article. A moment of silence that clears your head.

Even at the best of times, tons of parenting advice and information can come crashing down on your head. It’s ok, my friend,  to crawl out from underneath it all and carry on.

Wisdom knows where you live and will find you at the right time.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Free Play- adventures in parenting

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more, Renee. My brother put all our old home movies onto a DVD for Christmas. I was watching it the other day, and the thing I noticed the most was how free we were… free to explore, free to create, free to discover… free to play. I just finished reading “Last Child in the Woods,” and the one thing I regret when I think back to my last few years of teaching was not getting out of the classroom more often. I remember our “secret spot” behind the portable when Nathan was in my class (he cleared away weeds after school so we had room to hide and read), and I wonder what happened to make me afraid to abandon the classroom in order to feel the wind on our faces and hear the birds singing their praises.

    1. wow that was really a gift you gave your students! And nate was certainly one with nature. I can just see him clearing out the brush. Being outside really relaxed him and helped him cope with life. He works out side now everyday doing slate roofing south of London. I never did really thank you for all you did for him as a teacher. He is such a loving husband and dad and you had a part in that through your teaching relationship 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s