If your family’s summer budget is drained but you still have a few weeks before school starts, take heart. Your kids need some downtime at home.
A new book by psychologist Madeline Levine is among recent efforts by experts to take the scheduling pressure off of parents and kids. Every hour doesn’t need to be packed with camps, classes and sports.
“It’s too bad that the old-fashioned notion of summer as endless free time – to climb trees, chase fireflies, build a fort in the woods, maybe set up a lemonade stand – has fallen by the wayside,” says Levine, author of “Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success” (HarperCollins, 2012). “This is what kids need. They need it far more than they need a high-priced summer camp or some other program aimed at cramming a little bit more learning into their exhausted brains.”
Play is a child’s work, child development specialists say, not a waste of time. The National Association for the Education of Young Children says kids need time to play with objects and toy with ideas in order for information to really sink in.
Whether it’s the type of play that teaches children concepts and skills, play that initiates children into the world of peer relations or play that helps kids develop strategies for dealing with stress, the child needs to call the shots.
Kids who have no downtime for unstructured play never get to know themselves, Levine says. They only know who others tell them they are.
Levine’s tips for parents to shift into a more playful mode include:
• Truly let it sink in: Play is important. When we see our daughter dancing around the living room we think, “She’s so talented! She needs dance lessons.” But the minute you add lessons and rules, it stops being play.
• Think back to your own best memories from childhood. “They won’t be the classes or the lessons but the times you were allowed to just be,” says Levine. “It’s important to allow your kids this right as well.”
• Get back in touch with your own playfulness. Maybe you haven’t really had fun in a long time. Decide that you’re going to change that. When your child sees you playing, she will be more willing to play, too.
• Encourage free-range, not prepackaged, play. The more natural and spontaneous the play is, the better. A sandbox in the backyard is better than an amusement park. Blocks are better than a plastic Batcave.
• Be aware that loafing and hanging out are more valuable than you think. The next time you’re tempted to ask your kid, “Why don’t you go do something?” reconsider your belief that busy is always better. Even if it doesn’t look like kids are doing much, a lot of learning may be going on.
• Trust your kids enough to give them some freedom. “Choice is the hallmark of true play,” Levine says. “Have confidence that when your child is off on his own and enjoying himself and directing himself in activities he chooses, that is his job.”
Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, is a mother and preschool teacher. Email p2ptips att.net or call 704-236-9510.