Play, just play.


   “Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.”

– Kay Redfield Jamison.

I want my children to play. To play and play and play, and then play some more.

You might say, I’m being absurd, of course children play. What a silly aspiration. 

I only wish it were so, the more I’ve seen of present-day childhood  the more I realize that children don’t always actually play. Some are over scheduled – moving from activity to activity that will ‘enrich’ their lives, some are over-worked – given pages of homework every single day and still others are in front of a screen – playing in a virtual world.

When I think of the kind of play I want my children to have, I think of my own childhood. Saadia and I would go out into our backyard everyday, we would feed our hens, milk our cows and ride our horses. No, we didn’t live on a farm, but an imagination is a wonderful thing. You can live anywhere and do absolutely anything. We would ride elephants on our balcony wall and climb perilous mountains (a sofa bed is fabulous for such adventures). We didn’t have many toys, our backyard actually consisted of sand and erm, more sand and there were leaves here and there.

My mother didn’t have to work hard to give us a childhood like this. There were no iDevices, we did watch TV but children’s programming was short and sweet, so controlling it was a non-issue. Fast-forward to 2015 – we actually have to make a conscious effort and often, word hard to provide our children with a play-based childhood.

Here are some strategies I’m hoping to implement inshaAllah:

1.) Resist the urge to attend/sign up for too many structured activities:  Yes, toddler soccer, playgroup, baby swim and movement classes sound fun and exciting. But really, if we sign up for too many, we’ll end up with children who are just plain tired. 

2.) Ensure there’s plenty of unstructured time every single day: If we present our kids with adult-initiated activity after activity, when will they have time to just, be, to figure out what they want to do? 

Oh and it turns out that unstructured time has other interesting benefits.

3.) Limit screens – *collective groan from the audience* – yes, this topic has been exhausted so all I shall say is: my kids currently have little to no screen time and Alhamdullilah we love it. So much so, we’re probably going to keep it that way for as long as we can – we haven’t done games or cartoons, they do occasionally use our phones to watch videos of themselves and ZB has watched a few nature movies on my iPad on VERY special occasions i.e. 14 hour plane journeys. 

“But how do you occupy your child???”  – a question I’ve heard many times. My response, read Janet Lansbury’s article “A Creative Alternative to Baby TV Time” – she has some good suggestions.

4.) Reduce the number of toys they own – Why? Best article on the topic is by Becoming Minimalist –  ‘Why Fewer Toys Will Benefit Your Kids’ 

5.) Read books and books and more books. – I can write pages about reading and it’s importance but let’s not go there. With regard to play, one of the main things I’ve realized is that many of the games my sisters and I would play were inspired by the books we read. I want that for my kids. To have endless fun inventing and playing games kindled by the love of a good book.  Just the thought is heartwarming. 

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