Monday, July 6, 2009

Don't Miss Summer: Have You Played Today?

Play should be an important component of summer. I miss seeing kids playing in their yards, riding bikes, drawing in chalk on the driveway, and getting dirty playing with trucks in the mud. One of our girls once purchased a slip n’ slide for a quarter at a garage sale. The girls and their friends just about tore up the lawn on the side of our house in Kansas City playing with it by the hour. And as Bill would explain to the neighbors, “We’re raising kids, not grass.”

Everything today seems so shrink-wrapped for kids, pre-packaged with step by step instructions and pictures of how it should look. Guaranteed not to make a mess. I was once watching a friend’s children while she went to a meeting. Her children were playing with some old Legos that we still have, trying to build something from the little guidebook and getting rather frustrated that they couldn’t find the right pieces. “Well, you can make anything you want,” I suggested. “We can?” they said incredulously. That prompted almost two hours of incredible construction on the floor of our playroom.

Where are the muddy boys who play all afternoon in the creek catching frogs and capturing fireflies at night in old mayonnaise jars?
Where are the castles in the living room made of cushions, old bedspreads and every pillow in the house? Or forts in the backyard created from old refrigerator boxes?
Or “inventions” devised of old string and spools and dowel rods from the garage. Children’s bedrooms should be decorated with interesting rocks and maps and model airplanes made of balsa wood, and other things made of glue and old paint. Let them imagine. And if they make a mess, so be it.

Nostalgia aside, play is good for kids. Stuart Brown, a physician and director of the National Institute for Play (no, I did not make this up), says that in one of his studies, he observed play-deprivation in homicidal young men. Featured recently on National Public Radio, Brown says that play nurtures trust, promotes enthusiasm for learning, prevents violence, lessens stress, develops the capacity for problem solving, and invigorates the body. (And you thought it was just a waste of time). None of the murderers that he has studied had ever engaged in normal rough-and-tumble play.

And if it does that for kids, so much more for adults.

Why is play so important? I think because it is a component of life that God has hard-wired into our souls. Laughter and enjoyment. Sometimes we forget what they are. Last weekend, my husband Bill went for a long bike ride in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He was waiting for me to pick him up at a shelter at the conclusion of his ride. A man started to talk to Bill, curious about the bike and his outfit. The first thing he said was, “What are you training for?” “Life,” Bill replied.

Why is play important? Because it is part of the restoration of the world. In Scriptures, God paints a picture of the world restored. “And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets.” (Zechariah 8.5) ‘Cause that’s the way it ought to be.

Don’t miss summer. And ask your kids every night, “Did you play enough today?”
You too.

No comments: