Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Essential Nature of Play

I have always been a morning person.  Well, definitely not a night person anyway - my brain shuts down at about 10pm & I am rarely good for anything after that.  Since having children it has definitely become less easy to wake up feeling refreshed early in the morning, but that is still my best part of the day by far.  How frustrating it is then that in order for me to get out of bed comfortably nowadays I have to take painkillers as soon as I wake up (owing to the same ongoing back/bum/leg issues), and then just lie there waiting for them to take effect.  Fortunately, as with every gloomy cloud there is always a silver lining to be found - and today I found a good one.  Of course there are the treasured good morning cuddles - each of the boys invariably comes in for a snuggle and chat (and sometimes a book to read), and then wanders off - and today they all wandered into Eldest's room, where they proceeded to play together, collaboratively building their own imaginary "Underwater Playzone".  Blankets (and occasionally clothes) marked out different zones where various plastic sea creatures lurked behind atmospheric rock caves (boxes) and "HQ"s (toys) were strategically placed to offer protection to the various lego men who were diving there to explore the aquatic world.  The boys had a lovely time playing, and I had almost as lovely a time just listening to them all using their imaginations and successfully negotiating their way around the 'rules' of their make-it-up-as-you-go-along game. It was lovely, and lasted long after I was up and about.  I even had to peel them away to go to swimming lessons on the understanding that they could carry on as soon as we came back.

There seem to have been many articles coming across my path lately, some discussing the vital importance of allowing our children to play - such as this brilliant must-read article here - and others emphasising the necessity of giving children space to talk, such as this excellent article.  It is well documented that girls take more naturally to social skills, so I am extra keen to allow my boys whatever time they need to work on their communication - and for children, what better opportunity than when playing?!  In a family you really see the best and worst of each other: on the one hand you are with people who love you no matter what... the boys may squabble between themselves, but if an 'outsider' takes one of them on they generally rally together - and I like it that way.  Family bonds are the stuff security and confidence are made of.  However on the flip side, if you don't work out your differences with a sibling, you are much more likely to get thumped, and there are few places you can go to have a break from the person who is irritating you.  With friends outside of the family, at the end of the day they live somewhere else - if there is a communication difficulty it doesn't come home with you and you have space to think it through.  More restraint is generally (thankfully) exercised - less thumping, more consideration of the other person.  It's great for social skill development, but harder work than just being yourself at home with the ones who know you best.

I'm so thankful that we have both: we have friends outside the family where we meet for groups and playdates - and the boys get to learn to relate to people who may not share our family values.  That in itself is quite a tricky skill, and it's important that they learn to respect differences without feeling threatened by it.  And of course they have each other - for playing at home where they have common values and where they can relax and be fully themselves.

So there we have it.  I was thinking I might not have much to say today as all the boys really did was play (with an interval for swimming lessons)... and then I realised.  Their playing was all they needed today.  For sure, Maths and English are important skills to learn - but if I want to equip them for success in life, I must not forget the essential nature of play.  And of course, I don't have to have a enforced lie-in for them to exploit their opportunities to play - I just need to remember the lesson I learned during this season.

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