One of the more interesting parts of being a grandparent is to sit back and watch your child be a parent.
I spent a good part of the past week watching my daughter be a parent to my 9-month old grandson, Luke, (365 new photos and you don’t have to tell me you was to see them – I know you do) and thinking, “I can’t believe this same kid was playing in the high school band a few (months?) years ago.
Actually, it was more than a decade ago. Time flies. But what I liked about these two new parents is how they played with their son. Much to my chagrin, my daughter and son-in-law are not yet teaching my grandson how to figure batting averages or the moral significance of John Wayne movies.
Maybe in a year or two.
Most of the time when they play with Luke they make a few toys available and wait and see what he latches onto. Often, Luke will grab the tail of one of their two Labrador retrievers. Other times he becomes more interested in his socks than he is the overly expensive, yet very cool toys. And that is OK with the parents.
As a former second grade teacher, my daughter claims to know when to engage the kiddo in a “teachable moment” and, most of the time, just let Luke figure out for himself how he wants to play. My patience is not quite that of a second grade teacher. More like a Marine staff sergeant.
“He’s just sitting there. Let’s get him doing something! Let’s go Luke! You’re burning daylight – and ya got a lot of toys to play with,” I would exclaim, scaring the poor kid to tears. My daughter would remind me that toddlers can figure out for themselves what they want to do and that fosters some creativity. She is of the same mindset as SoBoCo Primary P.E. teacher Crystal Branch. For a number of years Branch has noted that recess time – unstructured recess time – is not only a good time for kids to burn off some excess energy, it is a good time for children to learn how to play.
A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and SHAPE America, a Virginia non-profit seem to side with Branch and my daughter, but just can’t leave well enough alone. The CDC and SHAPE are now recommending strategies for recess, along with several common sense ideas. Never punishing a student by not allowing them recess and having bad weather plans for recess are basic ideas at most schools.
But the study gets out of whack when they recommend “activity zones” to encourage participation. To me, that makes recess more like P.E. class – or so I’ve learned from Coach Branch. A Texas Christian University professor of kinesiology, Debbie Rhea, provides a program based on a Finnish model giving students four sets of 15-minutes of totally unstructured play outside every day. No kickballs. No soccer balls. Remember running up a hill and rolling back down it? That’s what Rhea is looking for. A mix of the two is likely best – who can resist a good game of four-square, kickball or tether-ball. At the same time, Branch’s idea of simply letting kids get outside and run around sparks some creativity.
Why are we studying how kids play? “They don’t get any unstructured time, so they don’t know how to play,” Branch would tell you.
It’s why my daughter thinks it is OK if her kiddo wants to spend as much time exploring the box as he does the toy that came with it. As daylight savings time gives us more time outside and summer is just around the corner, it’s a good time to consider how your kiddos spend their time: All structured time? Or some unstructured play time?
My dad used to walk into the living room, turn off the TV and tell a pile of kids to “get yourself outside and do something.” When he was really frustrated he would tell us to “go play on the freeway.”
He was kidding, of course, there was no freeway nearby. But we had a enormous oak tree we could climb and climb and climb again. Unstructured, unplugged and unsupervised play time – not a bad idea at all.