Tuesday, April 26, 2011

13 Things Parents Do that Inhibit Real Play


If you've been reading my blog for a while you know that I have a passion for a return to "real play"-- the kind children enjoyed 100 years ago-- the kind that adults remember with fondness-- and that is more and more rare these days.  I tried to pin down some of its defining characteristics in my post here.

Since that time I've been tossing around in my head thoughts from experience and observation concerning things that parents sometimes do to unintentionally inhibit real play.

This is what I have so far:

1.  Try to keep children from ever getting dirty.

2. Go along with our culture's message to little kids that they should try to be "cool" instead of feeling free to enjoy childish play (skate boards and sunglasses, makeup and dating vs baby dolls and toy dump trucks)

3.  Fill their day with too many planned activities. 

4.  Provide no boundaries.  Children feel safer exploring and playing freely when they feel there are limits. 

5.  Allow too much tv time or video game time.  Personally, I tend to feel that for young children if media time occurs every day (even in small amounts) it is detrimental.

6.  Hover or praise too much.  (creates self-conscious, parent-driven play)

7.  Laugh at their imagination without gentleness.

8.  Give them toys that provide too much entertainment for too little work.  At the push of a single button so many baby toys go absolutely crazy with flashing lights, music, voices.  A child should have to work at the reward a little bit. 

9.  Worry too much about injury.  My mother always treated risks of permanent injuries very seriously (brain damage, paralysis, etc) but if the only real danger was breaking an arm or scraping a leg then we were free to be adventurous and learn from our own mistakes. 

10.  Insist that furniture and toys be confined to their original uses.

11.  Grant a wish for toys as soon as the child expresses an interest.  A big spark for creativity for us as children growing up was the fact that we didn't have a swimming pool and we REALLY wanted one. We created so many make-shift pools on our own (pickup truck bed, ditch in our yard, etc) and really enjoyed doing it! 

12.  Treat the eradication of their boredom as the parents' responsibility.  In our family, going back several generations now, a child's "I'm bored" would elicit a stern, "Well, then I'll FIND you something to do!" and the result would be hard work! We quickly learned to keep any boredom to ourselves :-)  As an adult I am almost never bored because I learned as a child how to occupy and entertain myself. 

13.  Don't expect any chores out of them.  When children have to work part of the day it makes them treasure their free time more.  Also work stimulates children mentally and physically.

I'd love to hear your perspective on the kinds of things that inhibit real play.   Also, in the future I would like to write a post talking about the positive things a parent can do to encourage real play.  Your thoughts on that topic would also be very helpful to me!

58 comments:

Marie said...

I like your ability to verbalize thoughts many conscientious parents probably have somewhere in the back of their minds.

Bitterroot Mama said...

This is a great list! I can see some room for improvement (for my parenting) already.

Peter and Nancy said...

I love these -- I would add that parents should keep "open-ended" art and craft supplies. I see so many craft kits, art kits, etc. that are directed at producing a particular item. My kids love cutting, taping, etc. Right now, we have hand-drawn paper security panels on our basement door so my sons can type in their password when they're playing spies. :o) Makes me smile! And I didn't have to buy them a spy kit/costume/game!
Nancy

Having Fun at Home said...

Nancy, I LOVE that suggestion! All those kits really steal from the sense of ownership that a child should be able to feel when they do a craft.

Cindy said...

Hi,
I LOVE your list. I will share this with my Kindergarten parents. One thing I would add would be that some parents never allow their child to lose a game! They always let the child WIN! I am not saying that parents have to destroy the child in games, but "loss" is a life experience. It's a coping skill as well. Every year I see kids who can NOT handle loosing at simple games, they totally fall apart. Learning to deal with a certain level of defeat is a good skill to have. We can't all win at everything. Take a look at our economy and how many people are having to cope with the loss of a job, or not having the income they were used to having, loosing a home, etc. Small challenges for little children help build strong character for later life. Thanks again for the list!

Diana said...

I really enjoyed this post! I am guilty of more than I'd like to admit. Thanks for having such a great blog!

Sheri said...

I agrees, Cindy. Read _Blessing of a Skinned Knee_ for more in that vein.

Melissa Stringham said...

Thanks for your post! I have a question that may sound dumb, but what do you do with little kids all day? I have a 3 & 1 year old and we are trapped at home a lot because o naps and the weather. My 3 year old really struggles to entertain herself but I just can't do it all day long. She wants to feel in the gaps with tv and I know that is wrong... But how can I feel her day with better avtivities with me having to feel like her cruise director? She is constantly saying she is lonely and bored...

doddyj said...

@Melissa Stringham, I am in the same position. I have a 3 and 1 year old and my 3 year old has had the same tendencies, wanting me to be her playmate all day. I flip back and forth between stressing over how to get her to play on her own and then deciding not to worry because it's a phase and I should just be thankful for this season of close personal time.
I think what I'm learning is that it's a little of both - I need to provide times for her to play alone and I also need to relax and enjoy that this is the one time in her life that she adores me and sees me as her life.

Anonymous said...

I think one positive thing we can do is to lead by example. It is not necessary for every moment of our day to be filled with a planned activity. Parents who have hobbies or create their own activity outside of electronics or "work related" chatter on the phone live by example.

ecoMILF said...

great list. thanks for the reminders. xo m.

Casherie said...

Under your category of "being cool" I'd add that parents sometimes buy shoes and pants for children (especially boys) with the intent of making them cool but they're not able to play in. Like a six year old in skater shoes that fly off when he kicks a ball or falls off while riding a bike.

The Way of the Peaceful Parent www.peaceful-parent.com said...

I think this is a great article, I'll share it on my fb page The Way of the Peaceful Parent. I'm a big believer in giving kids lots of free play and particularly nature play.

I agree with Nancy about giving access to arts, crafts, games, painting, drawing material etc. We have open shelves in our living room giving instant access to games, jig saw puzzles, paper, markers, crayons, paper, craft books, embroidary thread, modelling clay, playing cards, and so much more.

Playing and faciliating games and activities with the kids is great. When they were still 2/3/4 yrs, I would often just set up a table with all the paints and art material, or make play dough together and put out rolling pins, shapes, or get out the face paint, which usually developed into body painting etc. At that age when you ask if they want to play with ... they often say no because the abstact concept doesn't necessarily hold the attraction, but they would rarely not light up with excitement when they see it all being colourfully laid out in front of them.

We don't do tv, so that helps, the kids are now 8 and 14, they both still spend a lot of time drawing, my daughter makes cards and books all the time and they've both always got their projects on the go. Last night we spent a couple of hours playing Cranium together and there was so much laughter!

I didn't understand the bit where skateboards were included in the list of ways that we encourage kids to be cool, I'm always amazed and impressed with what these kids achieve with their skate boards, the hours and hours of practice and commitment blows me away.

I find this subject so exciting, thank you for your article as it's full of inspiration, for me it's a nice reminder of the high value of free and creative play that myself and my husband hold for our kids, thank you :-)
Genevieve

MamaLovesBooks said...

I sometimes think that there is the temptation to read small children small books. My children have loved longer storybooks from a very young age, and they weave the stories and characters into their play. Great article. This is a topic we have been working on in our own house, and it was really great to see that there are others who are thinking along the same lines. And you added a few to our list that we will definitely be thinking about!

Shelly said...

Thank you for putting together this list. Marie said it so well about your ability to verbalize thoughts many of us have in the back of our minds. My husband and I grew up this way and want to give our child that same opportunities -- to explore their little corner of the world, feel both the freedom and security that parental limits provide, fall down, get up without an adult overreacting, make mistakes, experience the thrill of imagination. We will make sure to avoid these pitfalls -- so glad we're in such good company with your readers!

Lisa @ Granola Catholic said...

I completely agree with you on all this points. At our house tv is off during the week. Kids go outside to play. Their favorite toys involve dirt and rocks. I keep arts and crafts materials available for my kids to work with. They are now 13, 10 and 7 and still enjoy lots of free play. Happy to have found you.

Leslie said...

What a great list! it's so true that we need to think about if the environment we're creating for our children is conducive to real, free play - which is needed for their development! You highlighted some areas I had not thought of before.

Kensey said...

I'm a huge supporter of real play, but I'll be honest, sometimes I redirect a certain aspect of play because of the mess that usually always follows. It usually doesn't bother but by the end of a long day, one more mess means one more thing I have to clean up. Luckily for me, my two year really enjoys helping pick up, but i would add an obsession with a 'model clean, magazine ready' home to the list, too.

Thanks for the great list!

Having Fun at Home said...

I am so enjoying reading these comments. Such good food for thought!

Melissa, I definitely understand. Our kids are the same ages. I sure don't have this all figured out yet, but there is something I've noticed in relation to your comment that may be helpful to you too.

Sometimes I look around at my kids and their toys when they seem bored, and I think, "Yeah, what ARE they going to do? They've already played with everything in here a hundred times." But then if I get busy with something myself I'll often turn around a few minutes later and find them engrossed in a totally new and creative way of playing that I never would have thought of.

I'm really coming to believe that if kids are convinced that they are going to have to make their own fun they will eventually rise to the occasion. It may take a little longer depending on how much they have come to expect to be entertained, but I really don't feel that you have to feel sorry for them (or guilty) if they don't seem to have anything to do.

I really agree with the anonymous comment about the importance of keeping busy with interesting and stimulating projects oneself. I love our vegetable garden for that reason. I work hard on it almost every day, and while I work the girls play outside nearby. They don't look to me to suggest kinds of play because they see I'm busy. Also, it's cute to see how many times I will see them playing "garden" or imitating some other of my household chores or crafts.

Erin said...

Thanks for writing on real play! It brings back great memories of my own childhood & inspires me in my own parenting. Great comments here, too!

Frog Mom said...

Great list indeed, I love it! Except I don't like to create limits outside. I'm a strong believer in "finding your own limits" even if it means a scraped knee or a muddy outfit for the rest of the hike. Have you read Richard Louv's The Nature Principle? You'll find much inspiration in this book. I also recommend Raising Able by Susan Tordella (http://www.amazon.com/Raising-Abel-Recovery-Eschatological-Imagination/dp/082451565X). Great read on how to empower kids by teaching them chores and homework well done.

Caro Webster said...

I love this post. Full of common sense and a passion for keeping childhood simple and full of wonder. I particularly think point 7 is the most important. Love it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You and I have much in common. If you have a minute take a look at my blog: www.caroandco.com.au Best wishes, Caro x

Renee said...

I haven't had a chance to read all of the other comments, so I hope this isn't repetitive:

I have found that reading great, classic stories not only is enjoyable, bonding, and great for language, but it has sparked my little girl's imagination. Her Beatrix Potter friends have inspired her to invent and play all kinds of outdoor and indoor games and activities.

Your Therapy Source Inc said...

Love this post. As a mother of 5 I completely agree - I frequently say the old "I find something for you to do".

Anonymous said...

Lots of great ideas! For the moms who are struggling with younger kids ideas...I used to work at a daycare in the toddler room...also with 2-3 year olds and one of the things that we did that kept the kids entertained for a while on their own was making a "surprise box." We would take a shoebox and fill it with lots of odds and ends that were safe to play with such as small kitchen tools, blocks, play jewelry, etc. The kids would really get into it and create some really great little games or ideas on their own.

Anonymous said...

Lots of great ideas! For the moms who are struggling with younger kids ideas...I used to work at a daycare in the toddler room...also with 2-3 year olds and one of the things that we did that kept the kids entertained for a while on their own was making a "surprise box." We would take a shoebox and fill it with lots of odds and ends that were safe to play with such as small kitchen tools, blocks, play jewelry, etc. The kids would really get into it and create some really great little games or ideas on their own.

Caro Webster said...

I love this post. Full of common sense and a passion for keeping childhood simple and full of wonder. I particularly think point 7 is the most important. Love it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You and I have much in common. If you have a minute take a look at my blog: www.caroandco.com.au Best wishes, Caro x

Frog Mom said...

Great list indeed, I love it! Except I don't like to create limits outside. I'm a strong believer in "finding your own limits" even if it means a scraped knee or a muddy outfit for the rest of the hike. Have you read Richard Louv's The Nature Principle? You'll find much inspiration in this book. I also recommend Raising Able by Susan Tordella (http://www.amazon.com/Raising-Abel-Recovery-Eschatological-Imagination/dp/082451565X). Great read on how to empower kids by teaching them chores and homework well done.

Kensey said...

I'm a huge supporter of real play, but I'll be honest, sometimes I redirect a certain aspect of play because of the mess that usually always follows. It usually doesn't bother but by the end of a long day, one more mess means one more thing I have to clean up. Luckily for me, my two year really enjoys helping pick up, but i would add an obsession with a 'model clean, magazine ready' home to the list, too.

Thanks for the great list!

Lisa @ Granola Catholic said...

I completely agree with you on all this points. At our house tv is off during the week. Kids go outside to play. Their favorite toys involve dirt and rocks. I keep arts and crafts materials available for my kids to work with. They are now 13, 10 and 7 and still enjoy lots of free play. Happy to have found you.

MamaLovesBooks said...

I sometimes think that there is the temptation to read small children small books. My children have loved longer storybooks from a very young age, and they weave the stories and characters into their play. Great article. This is a topic we have been working on in our own house, and it was really great to see that there are others who are thinking along the same lines. And you added a few to our list that we will definitely be thinking about!

The Way of the Peaceful Parent said...

I think this is a great article, I'll share it on my fb page The Way of the Peaceful Parent. I'm a big believer in giving kids lots of free play and particularly nature play.

I agree with Nancy about giving access to arts, crafts, games, painting, drawing material etc. We have open shelves in our living room giving instant access to games, jig saw puzzles, paper, markers, crayons, paper, craft books, embroidary thread, modelling clay, playing cards, and so much more.

Playing and faciliating games and activities with the kids is great. When they were still 2/3/4 yrs, I would often just set up a table with all the paints and art material, or make play dough together and put out rolling pins, shapes, or get out the face paint, which usually developed into body painting etc. At that age when you ask if they want to play with ... they often say no because the abstact concept doesn't necessarily hold the attraction, but they would rarely not light up with excitement when they see it all being colourfully laid out in front of them.

We don't do tv, so that helps, the kids are now 8 and 14, they both still spend a lot of time drawing, my daughter makes cards and books all the time and they've both always got their projects on the go. Last night we spent a couple of hours playing Cranium together and there was so much laughter!

I didn't understand the bit where skateboards were included in the list of ways that we encourage kids to be cool, I'm always amazed and impressed with what these kids achieve with their skate boards, the hours and hours of practice and commitment blows me away.

I find this subject so exciting, thank you for your article as it's full of inspiration, for me it's a nice reminder of the high value of free and creative play that myself and my husband hold for our kids, thank you :-)
Genevieve

doddyj said...

@Melissa Stringham, I am in the same position. I have a 3 and 1 year old and my 3 year old has had the same tendencies, wanting me to be her playmate all day. I flip back and forth between stressing over how to get her to play on her own and then deciding not to worry because it's a phase and I should just be thankful for this season of close personal time.
I think what I'm learning is that it's a little of both - I need to provide times for her to play alone and I also need to relax and enjoy that this is the one time in her life that she adores me and sees me as her life.

Sheri said...

I agrees, Cindy. Read _Blessing of a Skinned Knee_ for more in that vein.

Having Fun at Home said...

Nancy, I LOVE that suggestion! All those kits really steal from the sense of ownership that a child should be able to feel when they do a craft.

Peter and Nancy said...

I love these -- I would add that parents should keep "open-ended" art and craft supplies. I see so many craft kits, art kits, etc. that are directed at producing a particular item. My kids love cutting, taping, etc. Right now, we have hand-drawn paper security panels on our basement door so my sons can type in their password when they're playing spies. :o) Makes me smile! And I didn't have to buy them a spy kit/costume/game!
Nancy

Christie Burnett said...

What a fantastic list.

Maureen said...

a friend once told me about her son eating her homemade oatmeal cookies, (she is a self described horrible cook), the cookies were very dry and flaky and the oats were falling off the cookies, her then 5 year old son was laughing and calling her to "look at the puppies! momma, the puppies are flying off my cookie!" She quickly said, "those aren't puppies", but caught herself and then responded, "well, maybe they are." I have kept this with me for years, (her child is in college now.) and when my kids say imaginative things, I don't ever try to induce immediate reality, I try to remember that perhaps they are puppies...

Learnin2worship said...

As I read the list I tested myself and other than number 10 I do well.  I like the living room chairs and couch to stay that way, although you don't have to always sit on them right!  I used to read upside down and so do they.

Peanutgalleryexithere said...

Have you read Simplicity Parenting??  I think you'd love it.  Exactly  what you mentioned above.  One of the best books I've read on parenting!

Lydia Will said...

Excellent list!!  This is totally how I was raised and how I hope to raise my littles.

Havingfunathome said...

no...I hadn't heard of Simplicity Parenting before now. I just looked up
the website though, and it does look great. Thanks for the tip!

Sheila said...

Also, stopping kids from making a mess!  Messes are great if they are willing to clean up afterward. :)

Mia Hess said...

THANK YOU!! Finally a "modern Parent" who understands! I see a shimmering glimmer of hope in the wilderness of over-protected, overdone, over-stimulated, no responsibility, bratty, entitled whiny kids today with their equally ridiculous parents!! THANK YOU! Blessings, and I'm sharing this.  
A Grandma who sounds way too much like HER grandma....

Mia Hess said...

How about using the furniture and blankets to make forts?  I loved that when I was a kid.

Mia Hess said...

I think what she means by limits outdoors is maybe, stay in the yard or you can go as far as Johnny's house on this side of street kind of thing.  I"m guessing that was her idea.  I remember having yard limits or street limits, depended on my age.

Mia Hess said...

My grandmother would read me one chapter of CHARLOTTE'S WEB. She started when I was four or five.  It was a bedtime thing. One chapter only then bedtime.

Kierna Corr said...

Love it Katey thanks for sharing

The Learning Basket said...

Hi Katey! I just discovered you from the FIAR FB page. I love your blog! This is what I am also trying to write about in my own blog - simple, real play! 

Miguels helpmeet said...

I love this!!! absolutely every part of it!! :-) so glad I found your blog!! :-)

Zipfish said...

I have over 20 years working with youth and families ministry (and about 10 on top of that working with kids)....These are things I try to pass on to parents everyday.  One thing I would add to that is requiring the child specialize (play one sport or other activity to the extreme).  So many parents are pushing kids to become "experts" or specialist at younger and younger ages.  Kids need time to play and explore a wide variety of sports.  As a former high level athlete and a parent of high level (Varsity in college) athlete, I am, more and more convinced that serious competition should not happen until 7th or 8th grade and beyond.

Garden Tenders said...

Love this!  I agree so much.  Thank you for putting it to words.

Bev Doucette said...

As a preschool teacher I applaud your points. I see so many children who cannot use their imaginations . So sad. We only want the best for our children but in doing so we sometimes limit their growth. I recently heard (again) that risk taking in play directly corresponds with fuent reading as you have to be willing to take risks to read.

jo ebisujima said...

great post, I arrived via Pinterest, I wrote something similar on my blog this week about the 'being bored' issue, we think on the same lines. Glad to have found your blog.

Stephaniem said...

I love this list and totally agree. Do you have any suggestions on how to have your child play by him/her self? My 3 year old only plays if I am there, which is great unless I have something to get done i.e laundry, cleaning. cooking...

Lydia Will said...

What a wonderful blog!  I couldn't agree more.

Michelle Annette Adams said...

I was sure that "try to take too many pictures" would be on this list :)

Lucy's Momma said...

if this list is TRUE then I am doing a fantastic job...  :)  but  as we all know this is only the tip of the iceberg for parenting rules.  It was good to feel for once that I am doing the right thing. I am a wraparound and I really feel that a lot of parents just need to let kids be kids and a lot of the perceived problems would melt away.  My daughter is totally manageable when I let her be a child. When the expectation is for her to be a tiny 3 y/o adult we both come away unhappy.