Play, The Abandoned Requirement of Childhood

A Gourmet Breakfast

Playing in mud

Mud. The friend of play and of white carpet.

I’d like to start our homeschooling school day at 8:30 in the morning.  But, geesh, after I make the gourmet breakfast of spinach quiche, almond flour toast, and poached pears with raspberry sauce, make all the beds, sort and fold up all of the laundry, call my mother, French-braid my daughters’ hair, have coffee with the friend who stopped by for a few minutes and read our daily devotions, it ends up being more like 9:45 in the morning or 10.  I’m a bit ashamed.  I know you all get this done, plus shovel the snow out of the driveway, and still start by 8:45.  Probably because you make your children help you with it.  I know.

I don’t make my children help me with all of this in the morning.  I should.  I know.  They’re going to grow up to be lazy mothers.  But, I get it all done myself so much more quickly if I just let them–

(Shhhh…Let’s whisper this word…I know there are neighbors watching out their windows to see if my kids do school…They’ll report me to the authorities if they see too much of this going on before noon…And then there’ll be a social worker knocking at my door and I’ll have to implement the emergency plan we have for this scenario…Don’t answer the door and pretend you don’t see them or hear them over the screaming baby and the roast cauliflower burning in the smoking oven.)–


At 7:30 in the morning, my kids are either up playing or reading.  Usually the older ones wake up reading, and the younger one soon wakes and begs them to PLAY.  (Shhh.)  And the ten-year old and the eight-year old soon jump right in to a game of Chuggle Monster, One-Two, Super Magic, or Hot Apple.  I’ve never heard of any of those games.  Have you?  Exactly.

Don’t Interrupt Successful Play

A child’s work is play.  Unstructured, honest to goodness play!  Play that does not include me.  I find it very hard to interrupt play time in the morning among my three daughters of different ages when they are getting along so well.  Learning to interact.  Compromising.  Getting along with all ages.  Using their imaginations.  Moving.  Spinning.  Sitting.  Creating.  So I let them play while I do all that cooking and cleaning.  My kids PLAY in the morning, and I let them.  A huge advantage to kids’ play is that you get so much done!  Ok.  Seriously, as much as I want to start school and get it finished early so I have some down time, I adore seeing my kids play.  More than anything, their play reassures me I’m raising happy kids.  At about 9:30 or 9:45 am we get around to doing math, grammar, and the works.

Play is More Than Play

Running up the stairs

No playing tag in the house.

It was Maria Montessori who said, “Play is the work of a child.”  It really is!  Without play, a child does not develop properly physically!  Last week I listened to two optometrists discuss how their optometry academies were recommending that children play outside for one hour a day to lessen nearsightedness!  And yesterday my sister sent me a link about children needing to play in order to help their body strength and vestibular systems to help lessen fidgeting, ADHD, and to promote learning:   Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today.  Do you laugh, cry, or fuss about how far away we have gotten from common sense when it comes to children?  Kids need to play (just like they need REAL food).  I’ve watched kids.  In many, physical strength is sub-par.  They can’t traverse a set of monkey bars.  They can’t climb a tree.

And think about it.  For all that must develop physically as a child, what must be developed socially and psychologically in childhood?  Sharing.  Caring.  Learning to stick up for yourself.  Learning to stick up for others.  Learning when to ask an adult for help.  Brainstorming.  Learning to amuse yourself when bored.  Learning to ask others to join you so you can have more fun.  Learning to ask others if you can join in.  Laughing.  Controlling anger.  I’ve found, you can learn a lot about a child by observing them interact with others in play.  Do you watch your child play with others?  I like to watch mine.  Are they leaders?  Followers?  Likable?  Not likable?  Boasters?  Shy?  Whiners?  Lazy?  Overbearing?  Sneaky?  Patient?  Kind?  Inclusive of all who want to play?

There is no substitute for child’s play.  Kids need to play.  Outside.  With other kids.  Without technology made to amuse them.  (Have you ever had a play date and the kids beg to watch TV or play a video game?  What in the heck?)  And organized sports don’t count in the younger ages.  Lots of kids are shoved into organized activities all year long.  Bad idea.  “Oh, sorry.  Johnny can’t come play because of soccer.”  Next month.  “Oh, sorry.  Johnny can’t come play because of basketball.”  Next month.  “Oh, sorry.  Johnny can’t come play because of baseball.”

Play makes messes.  It is loud.  It takes time away from the school day.  But I think learning how to play is one of the few things that are necessary to be learned in childhood.

Turn off the TV.  Take away the phone.  Put away the iPad.  Ban whatever the video games are called now from your home.  Put out some toys.  Some crafts. Even pillows and blankets are great fun.  Open the door and point to the swing set.  Encourage them to play.  Expect them to play.  Let them play.

Music and foreign languages may be easier to learn as children, but learning how to play tops them all.

I have two questions.  Do people think play has been abandoned?  (Or do they think all this increasing the school day length, decreasing recess time, and increasing organized activities is beneficial?)  And what else do you think is important to be learned at a young age and that may leave large gaps in psychology/emotions/spirituality if not taught or given?


21 thoughts on “Play, The Abandoned Requirement of Childhood

  1. The Vanilla Housewife

    Ahh I feel guilty after reading this! When I was a kid, the entire neighborhood back home was my play ground. Literally. Now that we live in the city, my kids don’t get to play as much as I would like them to outside the house because we are a few steps away from a very busy road, SO they make up for it by trashing everything inside our house. I try to bring them to the park weekends but it doesn’t always happen. 😦

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      No guilt intended ever! I just like to try to raise our conscious attention. But trashing the house is good play! I do think that it’s harder in town for kids to be outside playing, but hopefully the schools there account for that? Here, they are taking away recess right and left! I grew up on a farm, and now we are in town. When we visit home, I never have to tell my kids to go outside to play, whereas here in town, I do!

  2. VCrayon

    I totally agree. It really seems as though a shift has happened with regards to play and childhood. When I was growing up most kids were at home with mom, playing until 4 or 5 years old. My oldest is 3 years old, and he helps a bit around the house, but I get lots of negative comments about him not attending full time preschool!

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      I’ve heard other moms express that they, too, get negative remarks about not putting their child into preschool. I don’t understand this negative viewpoint! Why has society come to see preschool as the appropriate, necessary situation for a child of this age?

  3. Shannon

    I love this! For a long time, I felt like play had been abandoned. Just from the “lack” of kick the can, 7up, red light/green light going on in our area. (the “play” from my own childhood) Kids tend to be “busier” these days, (I don’t think it’s a good thing, they’ll be busy enough once they become adults) Most of the time when we see kids in our area, they are on the way to or fro some type of something, cutting into their play time.

    Sometimes I hear laughter down the street and it brings back fond memories of having fun outdoors, before the age of joysticks and a gazillion channels. When the grandbabies are here though, play is the norm, and yes, there is plenty of time for them to learn to clean up after themselves!

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      You’re right! That’s how we often see our neighbors–as we all wave to each other in passing to kids’ activities! Like you, I have fond memories of playing as a child. Up in trees, using garbage bags as parachutes. In the creek, muddying up my newer tennis shoes. On the playground, hanging upside down on the monkey bars (which was reprimanded by the teacher I might add) and hanging on the merry-go-round for dear life. Inside it was Barbies, hide and seek, and build a fort in the middle of the living room. Play, play, play. With some school thrown in. Never wanted to watch one of the three channels available when my friends were over! All the best to you, your daughter, and your grandchildren!

  4. lakenormanprep

    Love it!! You know that I completely agree with this! I have to just laugh when I go to pediatric continuing education classes on sensory integration. Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe that there are kids out there that need it, but…… It was all about having kids spin, jump, swing, go upside down, etc. What? Shouldn’t kids be doing this on their own? They do not get to go outside, climb, swing and play. I understand that parents have to work so kids are in school or daycare. I figure everyone is so concerned about getting sued or something that schools/daycares cannot allow climbing trees, swinging (yes, a lot of our school no longer have swings because kids can get hurt), and playing on the playground in creative ways (ie-upside down). I feel for these kiddos! I am with you also on not interrupting them. I have such a difficult time saying-okay time for school when they are in one of their worlds. ANd yes, I get a TON done during that time!! LOL..

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Recently, I was at a small park (with lots of soft mulch) and I watched a child keep sneaking onto the merry-go-round with my girls. A mom kept telling her child to get off of it–it was too dangerous. As my kids giggled over their giddy stomachs and dizzy heads! And I’ve seen the same things over monkey bars–get down–too dangerous. And climbing trees–get down–that branch will break and you’re too high. And playing in mud–you’ll get dirty. Law suits do abound; that’s the honest truth. That’s why we have all these hokey play systems at playgrounds now. They’re nice and colorful, but my kids love those old playgrounds best. “What’s this mom?” (Witch’s hat and those animals on thick springs!) I’m sorry, but it’s a sad day when the swings leave the park. A sad day.

      When we lived in South Carolina, there was a this place/business called “Core.” It focused on core strength for kids (doing what kids should have acquired naturally, in my opinion. But they were super at their jobs, and they can’t help it that many kids don’t play and acquire strength, strong vestibular systems, and a brain that develops as it should in response to sunlight.) I used them to help one daughter with her handwriting–good people. Anyhow, your comment made me think of them when you mentioned sensory integration CE. They had all that stuff to help kids swing, turn, balance on balls, etc. Their work really did help kids in school.

      I had to laugh when you agreed about getting a TON done! Their play allows our work! I guess it’s a natural equilibrium that works! ~Terri

  5. FitMomPam

    Totally agree! I purposely don’t schedule my kids for too many sports or activities. We live at the end of cul-de-sac and they are able to run around, ride bikes or just be outside. It’s not my job to entertain them. And all plugged in time gets limited…watching movies is a special occasion 🙂

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Right on! Me too! Orthopedic surgeons will tell you about repetitive sports injuries in young kids who over-do sports rather than just being active and playing and then funneling into a specific sport later. Warmest greetings to you!

  6. Nicole, The Non-Toxic Nurse

    I have also gotten the preschool lecture regarding my four-year-old daughter–from coworkers, and even from strangers. I went to preschool and ended up dropping out after a couple of months. I already knew how to read and spell (my grandparents had taught me), and found preschool B-O-R-I-N-G and repressive. I am so glad that I had a mom who let me drop out. Instead of being at preschool, I was able to again spend days with my grandparents. My grandmother taught me how to sew and do embroidery. She let me help her cook. My grandfather taught me all about nature while taking me on long walks. He let me help with their garden and let me watch him build beautiful furniture in his carpentry shop. They both played catch with me, played along with whatever games I made up, played chase with me in the yard, and helped me draw murals or hop-scotch grids on the driveway. When they went grocery shopping, they had me count out the money and pay the cashier. Those are my best memories. I learned effortlessly during those years. When I finally did go to school it was drudgery. I did very well, but did not enjoy a single minute of it. My daughter is also an early reader–a skill she learned via a fun program that involved heavy-duty parent interaction. We went at the pace she chose with the reading program, and we still go at a pace she chooses. She is now enjoying chapter books I read in 4th or 5th grade. She is at a first grade level in math–skills she has learned by playing math oriented games with us, applying math in real-life situations, and via Life of Fred books, which she absolutely devours (thanks HSD). We do not follow any set schedule. She decides her day. She plays when she wants, eats when she feels hungry, and naps when she feels tired. I agree with Montessori’s methods. With our daughter, what we have done, beyond the early reading program, is leave a variety of ever-changing learning materials at her level. She picks them up and teaches herself. She often teaches the dolls in her dollhouse or builds Lego structures to go along with what she has learned. She adds and subtracts fraction with her Melissa and Doug food cutting sets while playing with her kitchen. She lets us know when she needs help or clarification. We are a no TV household, but we do have DVDs that teach math, science, Spanish, writing skills, music, etc. at her level, and she is allowed to watch one per day. We will likely move to a slightly more structured method of homeschooling in the next year or so, but we feel she will do best with a hands-on and integrated curriculum. We have done some sample lessons of the Moving Beyond the Page curriculum and Right-Start Mathematics. She has been begging to do more, so I think we are on the right track with those. We will continue with Life of Fred too. None of the preceding will be at the cost of play–I know how important play was to me and how easily I learned when learning was made fun.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Hi Nicole! Your daughter is such a sponge! I am sure it’s a case of “like mother, like daughter!” She is super advanced and I am tickled that I could contribute to her learning by my post on math and our use of Fred. Play is such a crucial part of childhood in so many ways. Glad your “dropping out” of preschool worked out most beautifully! I went to preschool at a YMCA and liked to sit in the lobby and talk to strangers instead of traipsing up the stairs to class. Mom saw me to the stairs but not up them. Have a super weekend! The fall weather here has been fantastic!

      1. Nicole, The Non-Toxic Nurse

        Too funny about you wanting to talk to strangers in the lobby rather than go to class 🙂 Glad your fall weather has been nice. We have had many rainy days, but it seems to be cooling off. I cannot wait for the crisp, cool, and clear days to come. Hope your weekend is great too.

  7. Valerie

    I love this, Terri! Play has certainly not been abandoned in (or around) our house! 😉 My boys (10 and 3) are playing from “son” up to “son” down. 😉 Well, not really – Joshua does love his tv and computer games BUT he always chooses playing outside over anything else, which I think is a good sign. As my daughter has reached teen age, her play has lessened in time per day, but even it’s not gone! She loves games and laughing, creating new things to play with her brothers and our neighbors; she’s a leader. 🙂

    Something else that I think is important but that I’m not so sure anyone else agrees with (or thinks about) is sleep. It’s my opinion that children should wake when *they* wake and have bedtimes that we (parents) set, which are appropriate for them at their given age/needs. I mention it because it’s ONLY possible in childhood! I remember the horrid, horrid feeling of being woken up by my mother every morning for school. The only relief I had came in the form of summer vacation and snow days! And Saturdays – ahhh…..And what’s strange si that I didn’t go to bed late. Anyway, my theory of their rising independently as being the healthiest for kids has been proven true with my three. They all get up at reasonable times, somewhere between 6:30 and 8:00 EVERY morning. Their bedtimes are different because of their age differences, but they are all happy and well-rested when they get up. 🙂 It’s very hard for me to think about what it would be like if they were being forced to get up. I think I may have been traumatized as a child….or maybe enlightened! Or both. LOL

    Sorry to have gone on and on!

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      “Son” up to “son” down! Ha! What a fun play on words, Valerie! Along the line of your daughter, I have definitely witnessed how my 5 year-old keeps my nearly 11 year-old into the play mode. I am so proud of my oldest for being able to play with her younger sister and enjoy it! Doesn’t it just make you feel so, I don’t know, like your heart is going to explode when you see them all laughing together and just being happy together? (And your neighbors must love your daughter!

      Very interesting. Very. My children follow this more natural sleep cycle as well. And we know there was talk for awhile of how school should fit more into kids’ sleep habits. Haven’t seen much talk on this for awhile. As you say, sleeping at will is something that is, for the most part, only available to children. And I know medically that sleep is super important in development, memory, and immunity. Just a fascinating point. I’d like to revisit this one one day. (It takes me a long time though!) I was a child who needed (still do) 8-9 hours of sleep each night, and my rhythm kept me awake late at night. To this day, I don’t yell at my kids to wake them up (well, rarely); I walk to their rooms to wake them up. I HATED it when my Dad would yell up the stairs, “TERRI, TIME TO GET UP NOW.”

  8. IrishMum

    It really bothers me when kids come over and want to play the Wii. I had a couple of boys here once, 7 & 8-year-old brothers. It was their first (and last) visit, and their mother stayed too. They came in with Nintendo DSs around their necks, on lanyards, playing them. I told them they could go out the back to my boys, or play in the cubby. Both declined, and said they would rather play their video games. I was like, “WTF, (without the F in front of the kids 😉 ), why come over if that’s what you are going to do??” They said they could ‘play’ video games against my boys. They went and sat down playing their games for the hours they were here, and then kept asking their mum could they leave, because they didn’t want to miss a show. I was gobsmacked! Are kids this young really unable to play? Sad, really.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      That is quite, quite, quite the story! Wow-zah! Just flabbergasting! I actually feel sorry for those kids. Do you think they ever have conversations with their parents? Any interactions with each other? And didn’t their mom think it rude to not get her kids off of those things and outside playing with the boys? What’d they come to your house for? I mean, I like to get my kids together with other kids so they’re distracted and I get some time to do something or talk to the visiting mom–she clearly didn’t need that! Her kids are glued to some stupid game that will have NO bearing on their life!

      1. IrishMum

        I think the whole family uses technology all the time. The mum is always on her phone, and I suppose that’s their normal. They are a lovely family, hence the invite over, and the kids have manners, etc. The mum knew I was shocked, and tried to justify their behaviour with a bit of … your kids are the abnormal ones, most kids IN SCHOOL are on technology all the time. She went on the defensive. It’s common enough here to see young kids, not even teens, with phones too. And I can’t tell you how much I hate that!

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