Why the Rush, Mama?
There's a lovely little playground near our home where I regularly take my toddler for a play. It has picturesque water views, is nestled amongst giant trees filled with colourful parrots, and has plenty of space for kids to run around and play. There's a small café which makes nice coffee.
Yet no matter what time of the day or day of the week we visit this playground, all the other mamas and their kids stay for very short visits. And it's not just at this playground, either.
I've noticed this trend all around - kids who get fifteen or twenty minute play time before being hustled back into the car and shooting off somewhere else.
Why the rush? I wonder.
I understand going to a playground to fill in a spare half hour, to let your kid get some energy out, and even just needing to leave because things aren't going to plan that day. I understand the quick visits - but I don't understand why these are the only type of visits kids seem to get these days.
Is it really such a strange thing to spend an hour or two at one place, just letting our kids play?
Why are we in such a rush that we leave as soon as our kids have had a go on each piece of play equipment?
Why do we have so much on that we can only spare half an hour or less for free play?
Why are we so uncomfortable just slowing down and sitting still?
I know it's not easy, but kids' imaginations come alive when they have endless time before them, a new environment, fresh air and freedom to play. They have to first get through the discomfort of not knowing how to play with their imaginations to find that golden place - and I think this is where parents are ready to leave. But if we can just push past this quick phase, just with five minutes of being involved in your kids' worlds, then they break through and have a world of opportunity before them.
If you or your kids get bored at the playground, take an activity or have a plan for when you've reached this place of boredom. A few small activities can help teach your kids to push through and use their imaginations to interact with the world around them.
Here are some ideas:
Collect some nuts/seed pods/sticks/giant leaves.
Kick or throw a ball together.
Look for wildlife (insects included).
Pretend to look for crazy wildlife (e.g. bears, monsters, dragons).
Draw in the dirt with sticks.
Find somewhere to balance or climb (e.g. logs, benches, tables).
Pretend you're a favourite cartoon character (e.g. Peter Rabbit in Mr McGregor's garden, fairies in the forest, pirates at sea, out catching Pokemon, saving the world as superheroes etc).
Make roads, paths or shapes with natural objects.
Make craft with sticks and leaves (e.g. hats, masks, little fairy buildings, cars).
Make a shelter or hut or hiding place.
There really are endless activities to do once you're outdoors together - it just might mean using your imaginations! In fact, that's sort of the point.
I know we are all busy and have our routines and commitments. Every now and then, though, maybe we should be scheduling in more time just to let our kids play outdoors. Call it 'Free Play' if you need to justify it with a special research-backed terminology.
For further reading on the importance of unstructured, free play:
The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds from the American Academy of Pediatrics
Free Play by Play and Playground Encyclopedia
The Importance of Free Play for Kids by Vincent Iannelli, MD