"Play is a child's work. " This short quote by Jean Piaget says so much about children. Play is one of the most important things in a child's life, it's right up there with nourishment, shelter, and love. I wrote about the importance of play in this article
telling about how crucial free play is for the well being of children. I know from experience how hard it can be as a parent to sit back a relax and just let our kids be.
For so many reasons, family life is hectic in our society today. Just living with kids can be busy enough but then dealing with school, homework, play dates and extracurricular activities on top of normal crazy life can be too much for kids that just want and *need* free play. I was recently reading this article
by Beth Berry on the pressure we are receiving as parents to enroll our kids in an array activities. As nice as it is for them to try different sports, instruments, or art forms this kind of busy schedule can easily become out of control and overwhelming for many children. It also can add monetary pressure to parents. In the article Beth does the math with her four kids for one activity a season and the price is astounding. My thoughts on this is that there must be a better way for parents and children to enjoy life and still feel fulfilled. Although Beth solved her problem by moving her family to Mexico where the culture and people are much more relaxed, that's pretty extreme, for us focusing on taking things slow worked just fine.
When my first child was born almost 10 years ago my ability to get anywhere on time severely decreased. We'd go to activities and play dates usually a little late, and I noticed that many moms were packing up to leave by the time I even got there. So after maybe an hour or two of play, I couldn't help thinking that it didn't seem worth the effort to pack snacks, clothes, diapers, toys, and whatever else is necessary for a play date if we were going to have to leave so quickly. It seemed that a lot of kids were just starting to feel comfortable enough to really play by the time they were being made to leave. Also, anyone with a young child knows how long it takes to actually get them to leave, so you're left with what? A stressful morning trying to get out the door, and maybe a half hour of relaxed play before you have to start dropping hints that it's going to be time to go soon.
I made a decision that day I would only commit to open ended play dates and activities so we could leave when my kids and I were ready. Luckily, I found some friends that were willing to give it a try or already felt the same way. At first it was hard to break free from our social routine of go,go, go. But then when we all felt the freedom and ease in our day, I couldn't imagine doing it any other way.
Almost ten years and three kids later I guess I'm doing pretty well at keeping my pace. While sitting with some friends at the park and brainstorming blog ideas a friend suggested that I write about relaxed play dates. She commented on how I always seem prepared enough to stay for hours and don't seem in a rush to get anywhere while we're out. I guess it took time and patience on my part. The impatience of my kids never want to be rushed around helped a lot too. The learning curve of bringing what we need to be ready for anything is what keeps us going today.
The most important thing is realizing that your family needs to slow down. If you have the desire try taking your kids to a park or any place where they can play in many different ways with no real structure. Make sure you think about everything you might need or things that your kids might like to play with. You could even start packing the night before so you can get out of the house early and not be in a rush to get home.
Start slow and choose a day when you know you don't have much to do. Maybe invite a friend who would like to try a relaxed play date with you. Remember to bring what you need, and what you might anticipate your kids will need. Then relax and bask in the glow of answering yes when your kids ask if the can stay and play a little bit longer!
Here are some things we try to keep in the car or bring with us when we want to be away without limits...
-plates & utensils
-tee tree oil