Embracing the chaos – build a fort in the living room (if you can find the living room)

Giant Kid Fort

I loved this article from the NY Times on the movement to restore children’s play – a rallying cry for us parents to let go of our control freak order tendencies and leave it to the kids to rip apart the house and tackle some unstructured, imaginative play that involves loud noises, yells and dismantling of furniture.

Much of the movement has focused on the educational value of play, and efforts to restore recess and unstructured playtime to early childhood and elementary school curriculums. But advocates are now starting to reach out to parents, recognizing that for the movement to succeed, parental attitudes must evolve as well — starting with a willingness to tolerate a little more unpredictability in children’s schedules and a little less structure at home. Building that fort, for example, probably involves disassembling the sofa and emptying the linen closet. (A sheet makes an excellent roof.)

If you pop over our house, it’s a bloody mess most of the time. And sometimes the chaos does overwhelm and stress me out. Clutter everywhere. But I also see in that clutter the various superheros costumes my son dresses up in, the tinfoil robots and cardboard Viking shields, and my daughters ever present art supplies, strewn across three split levels.

And, as frustrating as I occasionally find it being asked to play with them only to be verbally thrashed and admonished because I am “not doing it right” when I have no idea what the hell “right” is, or even what it is we are playing, I know that I need to suck it up and have fun because it is important for them to be in control of whatever is going on, and for me to just go along with whatever scenario it is they have cooking up in their mind. Because in their mind me not “doing it right” is usually whenever I try to inject something of my own in their play, when in reality most of the time they just want me as a prop – a supporting actor in whatever epic fantasy they have cooking up in their heads but can’t always fully articulate.  It’s just part of the chaos. A challenge, for sure, and one that I am glad I am not alone in.

But promoting play can be surprisingly challenging to parents. Emily Paster, a mother of two in River Forest, Ill., a Chicago suburb, tries to discourage screen time and encourage her children to play imaginatively. That usually works fine for her 7-year-old daughter, who is happy to play in her room with her dolls for hours. But her 4-year-old son is a different story, especially in the cold weather when he’s cooped up.

“If he wants to play, he always wants me to play with him,” Ms. Paster said. “This child has a million toys. Every kind of train you can imagine. But he really wants a partner. If I’m meant to get anything accomplished — dinner, laundry, a phone call — then it’s really difficult.”

I feel your pain, Emily. It’s bloody hard work when you are nothing but an ever present prop for a 4 year old’s imagination.

On a bit of a side note, another section of the article reinforces something I wrote about a couple days ago about overly safe (and ultimatley sterile) playgrounds for kids, and how play spaces these days are designed more for adult peace of mind that developing children.

Ms. Rosker has also campaigned, although unsuccessfully, to bring recess to her son’s elementary school. But school officials were too worried about potential injuries, unruliness and valuable time lost from academic pursuits to sign on to her idea and, she was surprised to find, many parents were similarly reluctant. “They said: ‘I’m not going to sign that. I’m sure there is a good reason why this is good for our kids — our school has good test scores.’ “

So, not only do we not want to give our kids challenging play spaces that help them develop, but we don’t even want to give them the time to do it because we are too concerned about “injuries and unruliness”. Something just feels wrong about that.

Image credit: Giant Kids Fort by Dave Bates used under Creative Commons license

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