I miss our old playroom. Back in Portland we had a big space in our house dedicated to play, and that's where you would mostly find my kids: building, creating, zooming, imagining and making mayhem. It was perfect. Here, in this small rental home that we'll be living in for another few months, there is no playspace beyond their bedrooms, and they are feeling frustrated. (It's hard to race matchbox cars over wall-to-wall carpet.) It's not that our kids have oodles of toys that we need the space, it's just that they need the space to play the way they like to play: setting up a restaurant or a school room or a vet clinic; building a huge city out of blocks and train tracks and Littlest Pet Shops (and leaving it up for days); running, jumping, dancing, putting on a variety act. We're trying to adjust, and we grown-ups are trying to be more tolerant of play in our small living room. But. I find it's sometimes easier to give in to screen time when the kids come to me, frustrated with the limitations of this house.
(Though now that I think about it, they are actually spending more time outside in this big, flat yard. It's cold here, but it's dry, and the snow is fun. Ah, the silver lining.)
I recently read an excellent, albeit disturbing article in the NY Times about a 'movement to restore play' at home and school. (I suspect these 'movements' are often manufactured by the media, but this article is still worth a read.) The article gives examples of parents who want perfect mess-free homes, or don't want the noise that comes with play, so they encourage screen-based activities to maintain order and sanity. So now you've got all of these kids who don't know how to entertain themselves. Over the years we've had playdates with kids who don't know how to play, and they are challenging and seldom repeated. Everything is 'boring' and no one is happy and then I end up having to provide the entertainment. It's sad.
Some schools aren't helping matters, either. I'm always shocked when I read about elementary schools that have abolished recess. The article talks about one mom who tried to bring it back to her school, but was denied by both officials and other parents. They didn't want to deal with unruliness or potential liability or take time away from maintaining high test scores. Our new school (like our old one) has three recesses each day (wahoo!) while also managing to be exceptional academically. What gives?
Creative play that is not structured or led by grown-ups helps kids learn how to work together, solve problems, resolve conflicts and stretch their imaginations -- all vital skills that will serve them well as adults. I wish more parents and schools would just let kids be kids.
What do your kids like to play? How have you set up your home for play? Does your school have unstructured recess?