Playful Perspectives: Free play

Playful Perspectives is a new feature wherein your intrepid Toy Box Mommy (that’s me) and The Toy Guy jointly tackle a topic to give you twice the insight and perhaps slightly different takes on an issue.

Summer is coming (the lovely little ice storm my area of the country was hit with yesterday notwithstanding). To some parents, summer is a time to look forward to; the kids are off school, the days are long and lazy, and everything is a little bit better. For working parents, it may mean more of the same, with modified childcare arrangements. But for many parents, it may mean the return battle cry we least like to hear: “I’m boooooooored!”

There’s only one thing worse than that, you know. It’s a child asking to [insert electronic activity here] when it’s a beautiful day outside.

I’m not a Luddite by any means. My kids watch television, play games on the computer, and even have some hand-held electronic games. But I’m a firm believer in time-and-place rules. At my house, you don’t watch TV when you could be out riding bikes. Hand-helds are great travel toys, but when I say “go outside and play” I do not mean go sit on the porch and play Super Mario. (Though I might mean go sit on the porch and read a book, which may be a slight contradiction of terms, but I’m the mommy and I make the rules.)

I think most parents would agree that, ideally, you want your kids outside getting fresh air and exercise when possible. The question becomes which toys foster their natural creative instincts and which ones can only work in a set way.

Come summer, I’m all about the classics. If a child dares to come tell me he/she’s bored, I rattle off a list of suitable implements to alleviate said boredom: We have bikes, scooters, jump ropes, hula hoops, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, and—our personal favorite around here—assorted bug-catching paraphernalia.

On a good day, I’ll catch the kids in an elaborate game of their own devising. Our driveway will be transformed into an elaborate obstacle course for caterpillars, perhaps, or they’ll set off on a treasure hunt. (Word to the wise, though, never fall for “Close your eyes and put out your hands.” Just sayin’.)

This is not to say that I don’t see the time and place for those other activities. Or that I don’t see great ways for kids’ own creativity to take off within a more structured game. I am all about a great travel toy when the need arises, for example. Low-tech though it may be, when my kids were small we were all about Colorforms for the car or plane, and I loved listening to them come up with adventures based on their pictures. I’m just saying that in general I think that if we step back a bit—particularly when the weather’s nice and we can get out of the house—kids will make their own magic, given the chance.

And then all I have to do is swoop in with the sunscreen and popsicles every so often. Everybody wins!

What do you think? And don’t forget to go check out The Toy Guy’s take!

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