If there are children in your life, how magical is their childhood? Are they outside playing and creating or does their playtime consist of an early introduction to technology? It can be easy to rely on digital media to entertain children, but it may prove a short-term solution with social and learning ramifications.
After spending time with our kids, it made me realize that their living circumstances are a throwback to an earlier time. The Kodiak Coast Guard base is a gated community; relatively safe, even with risks associated with an unfenced taxiway and Alaskan shoreline and weather. Modest attached homes with small yards mean that neighbors are aware and involved. Cars drive slowly around the base and yield to playing children. Multiple playground help develop negotiation strategies (No, it’s my turn) and gross motor skills. My two granddaughters can play in the yard by themselves; hearkening back to less skittish times when kids were allowed more latitude with how they spent their time. It’s not quite, “Go out and play and be back for dinner,” but parents allow the children to ride bikes and visit the playground unaccompanied.
Rachel, my older granddaughter, is currently trying to attract fairies to the yard. She brainstormed about what the fairies might want in their home and how to create it. During a trip to jewel beach, she collected rocks and sea glass as ornaments for the fairies’ habitat. Small lengths of wood formed a fence and a plastic flowerpot became the house. She explained that because the fairies are magical, it doesn’t matter if the door isn’t hinged, but the flowerpot drainage holes should be covered so the fairies don’t get wet.
If you want to encourage a child’s sense of wonder:
- Choose simple, old-fashioned toys. Dolls, doll houses, blocks, bikes, balls, crafts, cars and clay spur imaginative play.
- Read. Reading to children, even after they have learned to read for themselves, promotes language skills and fosters an interest in books. Plus, it’s a cozy way to spend a rainy afternoon.
- Allow time for free play. Unscheduled time teaches children to use their own resources to amuse themselves. Sports and lessons are great, but make sure kids have time to play on their own.
- Send the kids outside. Children can be loud and messy outdoors while learning to appreciate nature.
- Restrict technology. Electronic toys that need recharging or batteries can stifle creativity. How many ways can a child use a remote-controlled helicopter or racecar? The toy directs the play.
- Limit digital media. While many families rely on digital media, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limits, including no more than two hours a day of screen exposure (which includes TV, DVDs, computers, smart phones, and tablets) for children ages 3-18. And none, yes zero, for 2-year-olds and younger. When kids watch programs or play on computers, they are using only two senses:hearing and sight. Television and computers create passive consumers of information; exposing viewers to someone else’s make-believe world. Also, young children are more influenced by advertising since they can’t differentiate between commercials and programs.
Moss, beach glass, wood scraps and rocks. Simple materials, readily available, so a child can create fairy tales or imaginary worlds. Less structure; more freedom. Children learn through playing Give children time and space to roam, so they can explore, discover and invent. And by the way, the same suggestions apply to adults. Don’t let kids have all the fun.
© Joan S Grey, 15 June 2016
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