The rushing of childhood... or children at play

It's no secret that I think allowing children to play is incredibly important, given how much I write about it. (I have gone through and linked to all of my posts about the benefits of play at the bottom of my homeschooling page, for those who are interested.) I think that most people are on board with toddlers and preschoolers playing... at least I hope you are. What I often feel is missing in our current culture is older children playing.

Not only do we not allow older children time to play, it seems to me we are fairly uncomfortable with the idea as a whole. I've heard so often that there is a great shift in expectations once a child hits third grade. The fun and games are done, and it's time to get down to real work. This idea of leaving behind little kid things, filters into other areas of life. Everything is more organized, there is less free time, there are far more electronics. The idea that a child can have great swaths of unscheduled time is more than a little foreign.

I am baffled by this. I have a houseful of children that still play. When I say play, I'm not talking board games or sports-type activities, though they do those as well. No, I'm talking about long imaginative games of their own making. The toy loft is perpetually under construction with buildings and cities and houses and farms and spaceships. Whatever type of building or vehicle is needed for the current storyline of their play. My children are not little any more, the youngest turn nine at the end of the week. Yet all five of them, H., K., Y., G., and L., spend hours a day playing. I did not tell them to do this; it is born out of their own need and desire to do so.

As I've listened to the playing going on around me, it is interesting to think about how the content has changed. Their play has certainly become more complex, yet as always, it contains aspects of what is going on in their lives at the moment... what has happened in our family, what they have read about, what they have seen. Just because they are older does not seem to negate their need to work through their current experiences through their play. It does seem to be how they figure things out.

The past week or so has been interesting in terms of content. The year anniversary of our move is coming up in a couple of weeks. That anniversary seems to have opened the floodgates of moving themes in their play. All week long, houses have been built and moved into, then something happens, and someone announces it is time to move, and the block house goes up for sale, a new house is built, and the contents and people in the first house move to the second. Sometimes one person moves house, sometimes it is all of them. Sometimes a person moves without telling the others and the ramifications of this need to be sorted out among the players. At one point, K. announced it was time to move, and Y. nearly burst into tears, because she didn't want to. Their play, and this play in particularly, seems to hit very close to home. It allow them to explore the whole idea of moving and leaving and arriving in a new place. I've heard them give different emotions and actions to the various figures who live in the houses. As they sort through it all with the playthings, they are also sorting it out for themselves.

This is good and healthy and useful for all of them, and I love listening to it as I go about doing my own things. Yet, I can't help but wonder how other children process things, big and small, if they do not have this outlet. I am sad for the loss of childhood and the time given over to play and exploration, unimpeded by adult agendas and overwhelmed with adult gadgets.

I don't remember at what age my older half of my children stopped intensive imaginative play, but it was well into middle school. I'll be curious to watch when this half of my children starts moving onto other ways of making sense of their world. I'll be sad when they do, but I will also know that they choice was theirs and they did so because they decided they were ready.


Molly said…
My almost 9 year old spends hours outside it imaginative play (usually revolving around imaginative sports games) and my nearly eight grader will sometimes join in the play. My kids are happiest when they are not too structured. I have said many times about my almost 9 year old that when he is really out of sorts, having play time in his room or just at home makes all the difference.

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