True Play is Truly True

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Last week, my friend Deirdre and I took to the beach for some fun in the sun with our elementary-aged kids. It wasn’t long before they retreated to the water’s edge and got very busy. First, by jumping over waves, then by hauling over pieces of drift wood, seaweed, digging holes and picking flowers for the finishing touches on a fort they had constructed. They mapped out a plan, worked together, problem solved, used their muscles and bodies and had a great time doing what came naturally.  Not one argument. Not one, “I’m bored.” Not one whine or “that’s mine.” Ingredients? Spontaneity, open-ended time and self-direction.

Deirdre mentioned that she was glad we had neglected to bring the sand toys….not that there is anything wrong with a pail and shovel but we agreed that not having an object to interact with put the kids on equal footing with one another, forced them to create, initiate and take charge of their time and space in a more imaginative way.

When we get into nature, or spaces that resemble blank slates where we can play as we wish, the sky’s the limit. As many bells and whistles that our toys and crafts have, they aren’t necessarily promoters of growth, imagination, curiosity and fantasy. As Author David Elkind, Ph.D. puts it in his book, The Power of Play:  “An unintended consequence of using toys to promote social acceptance and positive self-esteem is that it encourages conformity. Children come to see toys as vehicles of social acceptance rather than launching pads to imagination and fantasy.”

I am grateful for the friend who told me about Horizon Hills Preschool (Thousand Oaks, CA), whose teaching philosophy is that children learn best through self-directed play. At this school, if a child wants to paint a picture while wearing a costume they had put on in the dress-up area, they can. If they want to roller skate for 20 minutes, a teacher is not going to tell them that their time is up (unless there is another child waiting!) Children not only have the freedom to engage in an activity until their bodies and minds feel ready to let it go, but they have the opportunity to master a skill and confidence around a particular activity if they wish.  By being able to collect and hunt for bugs for as long as he needed, made one child develop an interest and knowledge in insects and later, science. This environment helped me to make sure that throughout their childhood, my kids have unstructured time so they can gravitate and explore the things they connect to naturally, which fosters a love for learning and perhaps a growing appreciation for a particular subject, sport or hobby because of the freedom given to explore it.

Taking it one step further when it comes to education and academics, learning a particular subject or concept that might be challenging can often be more interesting and actually fun when it involves a play element…especially if those reasoning skills aren’t quite developed yet. But academics and whole-child learning is a post for another day!

I leave you with this wonderful song by Fred Rogers, for beneath the play, is the child, and the child directs his/her play experience better than anyone else. Who knows just where the two meet…you would have to follow your children’s lead to find out.

I’m Still Myself Inside

I can put on a hat, or put on a coat,

Or wear a pair of glasses or sail in a boat.

I can change all my names

And find a place to hide.

I can do almost anything, but I’m still myself inside.

I can go far away, or dream anything,

or wear a scary costume or act like a king.

I can change all my names

And find a place to hide.

I can do almost anything,

But I’m still myself

I’m still myself

I’m still myself inside.

 

Summer Freedom: Boarding All Rows

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When you’re a mom, summer represents freedom from arrival and departure times. There are few “gotta be heres, gotta be theres.”

My friend Lindsay told her children prior to attending our school’s reading night at our local Barnes & Noble, “If you want to go, we’ll go. If you don’t, that’s fine, we don’t have to.” We don’t have to. Lindsay was all about allowing her kids to opt out. Freedom to attend was up to them.

Choice. Why can’t our kids always live like they have one? It seems that children have fewer choices when it comes to how they are going to spend their time. The school year for one is like a permanent umbrella over their heads. Activities and responsibilities drop down like rain against the vinyl covering– not hitting too hard yet distracting enough to steal away focus and attention from things we truly value, and the ability to decide that we are going to do something we want with our time because we can.  (Not that engaging in activities is wrong, there is just sometimes such an abundance of them that there can be little space for anything else.)  We live by the schedule of the school year that can make us weary and drive us to fatigue faster than we can drive our kids to their next class or club.

I love seeing my kids just be and you are probably no different.  They were excited this evening knowing they didn’t have to wake up early tomorrow, and baking a Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie when they would have otherwise been getting ready for bed had it been any month between August and June, took on a different level of excitement in the kitchen.

And I know that Lindsay was packing up to go to Disneyland the following day — a “gotta be there” that I am sure her children didn’t mind the pressure of having.

No hurries. No worries.

It’s summer. Fun and freedom have been extended with no plans of landing nor pulling up to a gate. (Until August). Enjoy!

Which freedoms do you enjoy most about summer?

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda — No Regrets

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Another school year has passed. Over the next few days, we will go through all the projects that came home from my children’s class and look back at the year through art, writing and reading projects. (We’ll skip the math sheets.) Many of the creations will be placed in a frame and take their rightful place on the family room wall with other beloved art.

Summer is a great time to catch up, clean up, sift out and re-organize. It’s also a great time to spend time with our kids doing things we normally wouldn’t do during the school year. As time quickly passes, I want to remember not to get so caught up with the “to do” list that I am not “doing” with my kids. One day, their presence in our home won’t be what it is now.  I won’t find crayons in the silverware drawer or Polly Pockets under the sofa. Stuffed animals won’t be strewn on the sofa  and as a result, the decorative sofa pillows will probably look unappealing and quite ordinary without a dirty sock or T-shirt strewn on top of it.  Of course, I still have time before we leave the doll stage and look for colleges, but I see how quickly time is moving, and I need to move with it, alongside my kids in ways that count.

The poem below sums up how I want to be mindful of my choices this summer…and always. It’s amazing how one little word…one little action, can make an impact and contribution to our goals, values and relationships.

WOULDA-COULDA-SHOULDA

by Shel Silverstein

All the Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas

Layin’ in the sun,

Talkin’ bout the things

They woulda-coulda-shoulda done…

But those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas

All ran away and hid

From one little DID.

 Don’t let summer pass with woulda, coulda, shouldas…end the season with worthwhile dids.

 

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE SOME OF YOUR “DIDS” TO BE WHEN YOU LOOK BACK OVER YOUR SUMMER?  

Stories from the Sofa

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Published on The MOM Initiative

As a mother of two little girls, I find there are many activities that compete for our time, attention and wallets. In a culture where children are busier than adults with their activities, I find that my most treasured, connecting way to spend to spend time with my children doesn’t involve a schedule, sign-up nor strategy. There isn’t a uniform or a schedule. We don’t have to race out the door–the beginning and end times are open-ended. Often you will find a comfy chair, sofa, or your lap the best location, and sitting Indian style on the carpet works great too.

Reading and re-reading stories, laughing, discussing, remembering and creating closeness over the shared experience of establishing a love for the written word has been a meaningful way to connect and share closeness with my girls. We giggle, fantasize, make up our own endings, sometimes analyze what is happening in the story and bond over using our imaginations.

Taking reading one step further, I try to carve out time to read Biblical stories with my children as well.  I can’t depend solely on Sunday school classes or youth groups, VBS programs (though all wonderful and enriching) to teach my children about God and the gospel message. An easy-to-use guide that helps teach the Bible in a simple way for children preschool-age through high school is called, Long Story Short, By Marty Machowski. The book guides readers through ten-minute devotionals that highlight the gospel through Old Testament stories. Of course, there are many resources out there, but all you need to start with is a Bible and your voice.

Teaching bible truths to our children and helping them to see how God’s principles are applicable to their lives requires time, explanation, discussion and guidance from us. If children have the opportunity to discover how God was at work in peoples’ lives in Biblical times and how He is at work in their own lives by applying His truths to their circumstances, we are helping them grow in their understanding of Him so that their faith can become personal. As parents, it is our job to provide our children with instruction, teaching and examples of what a walk with God looks like, but ultimately, we cannot give them their personal faith. We can only provide an environment for learning about what it entails.

Pray and ask God for wisdom in listening to your child’s questions and for God to give you the right words to help him/her understand the truth about God as He reveals it, and that He would create a willing and believing heart in your child.

This summer, read aloud to your hearts content with your children and include the Bible. All of the best stories about God and who He is can be discovered right from your couch, where you can grow your relationship, a reader and a love for the Lord.

 

 

 

Praying Character Traits For Your Kids: Courage

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Courage: persevering with confidence in spite of difficulty, danger, pain or fear

The Cowardly Lion wanted it desperately. We saw him clutch his tail and wipe his runny nose, sobbing, often running and hiding during outbursts of weakness.   Expressing his fear meant that he was getting closer to unearthing the strength he believed he lacked but was hidden below the surface.

I think all of us have courage in the areas we lack, but sometimes, we don’t see it take root until we’ve traveled a long journey fraught with obstacles…only to discover that courage was there all along. Often, it’s the journey that gives us the opportunity and ability to put courage into play; otherwise known as God’s refinement process. If all our characteristics are ingredients contributing to who we are, and He is above us mixing them all together, He might be saying, “Hhmm, given what I am planning for your life and for eternity, and given I know all that will take place in your life and the plans I have for you, I think you might need more patience, or sensitivity or courage.” We can trust He knows how much to allow in our lives and what exactly is needed, for His purposes and plans are intentional and good. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

For our children, courage may look like a lot of different types of things.  It might mean starting a new school and having to make new friends, getting up in front of the class to give an oral report, standing up to someone to defend another, speaking out against a wrong action to declare the truth, not following what the crowd is doing…there are countless examples of circumstances where our kids have to face their weakness and sometimes go through a refinement process in order to become stronger. And through that, we have to encourage our children to listen to the word of God, not the word of the world.

Praying for courage and endurance is a prayer worth praying. The practice runs may be painful, but will equip our kids with what they need for life.  And with God as our personal refiner, we can trust that He knows how much we need in order to achieve that oh-so important attribute.

“Dear God, build up _______ to become a person who is strong and courageous because he/she trusts in you. As he/she faces people or circumstances that will test his/her convictions, help him/her not to be paralyzed by them but to always remember that you are with her/him.”   (From: While they Were Sleeping, by Anne Arkins and Gary Harrell)

Recommended Scriptures:

“For my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2Cor 12:9)

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” (Romans 8:26)

“For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2Corinthinas 12:10)

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)