Yesterday, I got to spend an hour doing “nothing” with a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old. We found a weedy, empty lot, and we went exploring. The children pulled and picked, poked and prodded, stomped and stepped, looked and listened. Their joy and contentment was viral, and it quickly infected me, too.
The 4-year-old immediately entered a world of pretend, inspired by the surroundings. The dead weeds were “Grain Of Wheat! My mom makes me bread out of this! It’s delicious!”, and she set to work gathering the “grain” for a new batch of pretend bread. The 2-year-old rejoiced in the sensation of pulling grass out of the damp ground by the stems, and crunching leaves and dead plants under foot. Together, they found “treasure,” sang and talked to each other, and giggled about how funny it was to smash clods of dirt under their feet. They discovered together how shaking the branches of a shrub caused the fluffy seed to fly into the wind, looking like snowflakes.
When it was time to leave, we didn’t want to go! The children had been creating magic out of “nothing” for an hour, and none of us wanted to break that spell. When we got back into the car, we all agreed that we felt refreshed, even though it was late in the afternoon, and NONE of us had gotten our nap that day.
This magical hour might not have happened. The kids’ nanny had first intended to bring a video for them to watch when she was planning for this expected wait-time while she had a doctor’s appointment. But then, wise young woman that she is (my daughter, Audra!), she realized that the doctor’s office had some empty space next door, and suggested that maybe I could take them for a walk outside while she was seeing the doctor. Think about the contrast: turning our brains off for an hour while watching a video vs. the brain stimulation of fresh air and pretend play. If we’d gone the video-route, I’m certain that we would have ended up with two cranky, wired kids instead of the refreshed, enthusiastic, yet calm kids we buckled into the car after this hour of quality outdoor play.
Kids are BORN to play. They crave play. They want and need nothing more than to explore, pretend, and experience the world through their senses. Nature (even a tiny courtyard, patio, or backyard) is the richest environment for quality play. Simple, kid-generated play is the best. In yesterday's play, our “toys” comprised weeds, grass, and dirt. Fancy, expensive, glittery beeping toys are attractive enough to distract kids from their real business of learning and growing. When they get to immerse themselves in kid-driven (not toy-driven) play every day, they feel great. They feel like themselves. Through quality play, kids’ brains grow and neural connections multiply, laying the foundation for all future learning. Taking the “easy” route and falling back on videos and toys designed to be entertaining rather than useful inevitably results in kids who are frustrated and bored.
Yesterday's experience reminded me of a post about toys, which I wrote for my blog a year ago:
And my thoughts about the benefits of quality play were reinforced this week by these posts from other sources:
(It almost sounds like the people who wrote these articles had been reading my blog, or attending Explorer PEC’s!)
In addition, you might want to check out our local “Wild Zone” group: