Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hooray for Play!

Photo Credit Jonathon Isaac

I came across this article the other day in the New York Times about the importance of play.

At first I was really excited to see this! They said that the average kid spends over 7 1/2 HOURS staring at a screen! Going back to imaginative play that doesn't involve one-purpose-battery-operated toys or sitting in front of a screen? YES!

Then I realized how pathetic it was that we have to have a whole MOVEMENT to restore PLAY.

That just seems oxymoronic. Play is meant to be spontaneous, indulgent, creative! How sad that parents today don't want to deal with the mess of finger painting and building blocks and mud pies.

Maybe I have no right to say this, as technically I don't have any kids walking around and making a mess at the moment. But I think being a nanny for 4 years, some of those times being with the kids more of their waking hours than their parents were, lends me some credit. And being the nanny, you don't have the option to leave the mess until morning!

I started thinking about my childhood growing up, and how we used to play. Here's just a few of my memories:

Building forts. Lots and lots and lots of forts. In the garage, in the living room, in our bedrooms...we loved and lived in forts. Give us a sheet and some heavy books, or a big cardboard box and we were in heaven for hours. There were these big, colorful cardboard "bricks" we had and we could construct walls to keep out evil intruders. We even got to do sleepovers in them sometimes...which was beyond cool.

Dress up. Coming from parents who both majored in theater we had an ample supply of dress up clothes...and accessories to boot! When we were about 3, my best friend Chad and I would constantly have some sort of costume on. Mine usually involved a bridal veil and his always included a tutu and one sparkly glove -- Michael Jackson-style.

My brother, our neighbor across the street and I started a club. We met on our balcony, saved our quarters and bought some goldfish as mascots, decorated our bikes for the fourth of July parade, went caroling during Christmas, and developed a plan to save the world. I think I still have the outline somewhere...

We built huge marble shoot tracks that spanned from my brother's bunk bed to the door. I planted in my garden that was a whopping four square feet. We swam in our pool until our hair turned green. We had lots of crafty-toys like a mini potter's wheel (never made anything worthwhile but it was sure fun!), a paint-gyroscope thingy, Lincoln logs, legos, bead looms, chemistry sets, an Easy Bake oven and a homemade perfume mixer.

My mom would make play dough on the stove top, we played slip 'n' slide in the yard, I made mini schoolbooks for my dolls and taught them lessons, and my brother would do crazy gymnastics on a giant red bouncy ball.

It wasn't like we were a no-TV household. On the contrary, just about every night our whole family would watch something together. Its still one of our favorite things to do as a family, because we discuss whatever we're watching all the way through and afterwards (True Grit over Christmas provided a LOT of discussion!).

But I think the proportions were a lot different than they are today. We spent 7 1/2 hours playing instead of playing Nintendo or being on the computer or watching TV.

All that to say I'm glad I played a lot growing up. And I think its good to still play as an adult.

Last night I took Roy for a walk while it was snowing fast and thick. I skidded in my galoshes as he romped around, taking a running scoop of snow into his mouth that sent him into sprints of ecstasy...and dragged me along for the ride! We spun and ran and frolicked and for awhile I felt about 7 years old again.

So go play today. And let your kids play. And then teach them to clean up the mess, hah!

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