let the children play

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“There is a little danger in these days of much educational effort that our children’s play should be crowded out, or, what is from our present point of view the same thing, should be prescribed for and arranged until there is no more freedom of choice about play than about work.  We do not say a word against the educational value of games (such as football, basketball, etc.)… But organised games are not play in the sense we have in view.  Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make.”  -Charlotte Mason (quoted in For the Children’s Sake)

“There are many reasons why children have been reduced to a point where they don’t play with joy, initiative, and creativity.  Often so far as their personality is concerned they are wheelchair cripples, too disabled even for crutches.  Restorative actions means scheduling time, time which is not obviously “improving.”…Certain factors encourage play.  It is often easier home-based than institution-based.  There should be space, and lots of free time.  Children need to be outdoors (for hours).  They need to make noise, mess, and to have access to raw materials (old clothes for costumes, hats, tables to turn into camps, etc.).  They need privacy from intruding adults, but they need interested support in quarrels, thinking of another way around a problem, providing food, and, at the end, bringing the children tactfully back into the world where supper is ready, the camp has to be packed up, children are tired and ready for the soothing routine of evening stories.”
-Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake

Our home days are my favorite days, “home days” meaning the days we aren’t running around doing errands, restocking our various shelves or visiting with friends.  We love all of that, too, but we always try to have some uninterrupted hours outside, too.  One rainy days, we go hunting for puddles and momma gears up mentally for a tub full of muddy, sodden boots and clothes for laundering.  There are things that matter far more than a perfectly tidy home.  I heard a quote on the radio this week that a perfectly tidy home is a sign of a life misspent.  Maybe I’m just comforting myself with those words, but it is a comfort.  Of course, I dream of a perfectly kept home, and there is a great value in a tidy and relatively neat home for providing structure, refuge, and sanity for the family.  But there are more important things at stake than a handful of stray crumbs, cheerios stuck to placemats, laundry heaped clean in a basket.  Children are growing up day by day.  They need affection, affirmation, encouragement.  They need eye contact.  They need to be unhurried.  They need spontaneity, curiosity, exploration, dirt and discovery.

And the reality is us adults need all of that, too.  Having children is a very good thing for us “grown ups.”  It is helping me to be a child again, to remember what a world full of wonder we live in.  It is bringing laughter and silliness again, where once maturity and sensibility was so prized.  It is teaching me, as C.S. Lewis wrote to his goddaughter in the dedication of his book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, that I am “finally old enough for fairy stories again.”  And I’m so glad.

I’m only learning, though, and often regress.  I’m thankful for these words from For the Children’s Sake, and find myself reminded that children are born learners.  Its often our systems and programming that bore them to death and teach them amiss that learning is a tiresome, bothersome endeavor.  The reality is that if we take them out into the natural world, which is so full to the brim with curiosities, beauty, ugliness, creativity, function, pain, and philosophy, they are sure to find things that spark their wonder, and we can stoke the embers of that wonder into flame.  We do that by getting down with them, exclaiming with wonder over their discoveries, asking questions and prompting their thought, finding books and videos that explore the matter further.

The geese on our nearby pond are nesting, and we just happened to check out a book from the library all about geese families.  We have been checking the geese every day if we can, whether walking to the lake, or hoping on our bikes after dinner in the dusky evening to see if any goslings have hatched.  I am learning wonder again, over things so small and things that didn’t matter much to me before.  I am learning to notice again, to wonder and to find ways to see the glory of God on display in these small and simple things He has seen fit to fill the world with.

“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,
in the things that have been made.”

Romans 1:20

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