Childhood should be a time to play with freedom and joy.
For thousands of years, God’s kids have been free to play like children, without fear and without pressure to become the brightest, surpassing their peers in a scramble to succeed. Christian parents really must resist the pressure to fill every spare moment of their children’s lives with activities geared to making sure their kids are prepared for the most exclusive preschool with an eye on the best universities. No time to be bored; no time to play, even at three.
Children need time to be bored because boredom is the birthplace of creativity. Boredom gives God space to speak to His little ones. Free play gives kids and God some breathing room.
Yet, even if the pressure to succeed was not enough, today’s parents tend to hover, protecting their kids from everything imaginable. When my oldest children started school in the mid to late ’80s, they played with real marbles, bounced tennis balls off the school wall, and could bring real baseballs and basketballs to school. In short, they played like children have played for generations. By the time they were in grade eight, the principals had banned marbles and real balls from the schoolyard. Why? They were too dangerous!
My oldest daughter drew a picture entitled “Recess at St. Mike’s” that shows a girl standing frozen in place, with a ball and chain around her ankle, unable to play.
Quite revealing, isn’t it?
When I was a child, we hopped on bikes without helmets, only wore sunscreen at the beach, and ate peanut butter sandwiches. I understand that the world has changed and seat belts are wise — but along with new, necessary safety measures this generation has put into place, society has burdened children with fear.
Childhood is a time to play in freedom and joy, freedom to lose themselves in the sheer joy of the present moment, without nagging regret about the past or fear of the future. My family was and is fortunate to live in the country, where my children roamed safely, caught frogs, built forts, explored a creek, and created wonderful imaginative games.
One example stands out in my mind. I had gathered everyone for dinner but we were waiting for Anthony. Someone spotted him out the window and called the rest of us over to see him. There was Anthony on the platform of our large wooden play structure, wearing his usual uniform consisting of a black cape, black barn boots, and grey felt hat, engaged in a fierce sword fight with an imaginary enemy. Suddenly he clutched his chest and staggered over to lean on the railing. Then rallying his draining energy and stamina, he suddenly rose up and with a courageous flourish thrust his sword into his evil opponent and collapsed in exhaustion and agony.
We were all delighted with his imaginary play.
Children need free, unstructured time to play, to let their imaginations fly.
This can only happen if we refuse to allow our own fears to burden our children and if we give them the time and space to simply be children, God’s children.
Copyright 2018 Melanie Jean Juneau
Image Copyright: Shelia Brown via PublicDomainPictures.net, CC0 Public Domain
This article was originally published at CatholicMom.com and is shared here with permission.