When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was to be in my room creating imaginary worlds for all my My Little Ponies. I also loved to have a friend come over so we could play Barbies all afternoon. Or to make up dance routines to Madonna’s True Blue album. Or to ride my bike around my neighborhood and see who else was outside that might want to ride bikes with me or play a game or chase boys. I was never bored.
Things are different these days with so many scheduled things for kids to do. I’m not saying these are bad things. Music lessons. Sports practices and games. School and church activities. But sometimes I look around and see that every minute of my kids’ lives are scheduled. And as a result, they aren’t learning about the beauty of boredom. We often think of boredom as a negative thing. But that boredom is what leads to unstructured, creative play. The kind of playtime I grew up with. The kind of playtime that is essential to the physical, social, and emotional well-being of kids. It helps them develop confidence. It helps them discover their own interests and abilities. It helps them handle problems on their own. It helps them manage their time. It lets kids be kids for awhile.
I am beginning to notice so many beautiful things with my own kids when they have unstructured playtime … time that I am not involved in any way (other than the occasional need for owie attendance). They don’t need me to tell them what to play or how to play it. They make their own decisions and learn to be in control of their own choices.
I see them learning cooperation. We have four active, opinionated, and vocal children. I love seeing them create games that they can all play together. They work together to cooperate and find solutions to the inevitable conflicts that arise. I love that no one is coming to me saying, “He or she did this or that!” And they are having fun at the same time all together. They are learning to negotiate in their creativity. They are creating a cupcake store, or making Lego worlds, or playing board games with their own rules.
We have a playhouse in the backyard. I see all their imaginations come alive when they are all out there. And the boys are playing with the girls. Now they may be creating separate scenarios in their playtime. The girls may be playing moms and the boys may be playing ninjas, but they are all somehow playing it together. Imaginary worlds are colliding, but everyone is ok with it.
I see them all out on the trampoline. They can be out there for hours. They take turns letting each other show off. They give each other space to try new tricks. They create these elaborate games with rules that they all understand and agree to and somehow always remember the next time. There are balls flying and so much laughter it almost makes me want to come out and jump. Almost.
We also have a basketball goal in our front yard. The boys especially shoot baskets and play two-on-tow for hours. Our neighbors also have put up a basketball goal. Can you see where I am going with this? Now we have full-court street basketball happening. Sometimes even with cheerleaders. And they are just as likely to start a football or soccer game. Everyone is having a blast. Not only is this keeping my kids active, but it is encouraging their social growth as they play with other kids outside of our family.
While I’m all for utilizing all the opportunities that are available for my kids these days, I also realize the importance of time that is theirs. Time that they get to decide what to do to make themselves happy. How great is it when kids can just be kids and let their imagination soar? That’s my hope for this summer. We may do a few camps, but my big goal is to get them re-aquianted with boredom and the creativity and cooperation that will hopefully come from that.
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