Where I grew up, back yards were important. My brother, sister and I spent a lot of time in our back yard. We had a big deck on the back of our house, swing sets, an apple tree that we all climbed over and over again, a clothesline, a shed for our bikes and a baseball/kickball/softball diamond worn into the grass.
In the fall, we had a leaf pile; in the winter we packed the deck steps with snow and went sledding; in the Spring we planted a garden; in the summer we had wading pools and sprinklers.
In every season, it was full of friends. I had neighborhood friends who never saw the inside of our house (and vice versa). We were sent outside every day in the summer, even if meant stealing seconds between rainstorms. We rode our bikes up and down the driveway (and as we got older, around the block). We played wiffle ball and hide n’ seek and kickball and tag and Mother May I? We played pirate ship on the deck. We snatched popsicles from our freezers and passed them out to everyone. We pretended we were starring in movies. We pretended the swing set was an airplane. We pretended all of our parents went away on vacation together and left us in the backyard all alone. We narrated stories to each other and called each other fake names.
We played for hours and hours–in the summer we would play from the moment we woke up until the moment it got too dark to even catch fireflies. I’m sure our parents and babysitters looked out the window from time to time to make sure we were still there and not currently bleeding (we did a lot of bleeding, too), but they mostly just let us play.
That’s what’s missing anymore. Kids don’t just play. They are shuttled from one activity to another, have piles of homework to do and too much electronic distraction.
Two days a week, our church opens Hoffman Hall (the gym and attached classrooms) to children from our community. We have snacks and homework time. Those are the only structured components of after school club. Kids come in the door, eat a snack, do homework if they have it and then…
They play dodgeball and basketball, line tag and octopus, hospital and school, Barbie and Legos, Play-Doh and Perler Beads, Monopoly and Topple, ice cream shop and dance contest. They make up all kinds of things to do. They are all different ages, all different abilities and yet there are some days when the whole group is working together to create a wonderful game that no one has ever played before. My assistant and I settle small disputes that come up and suggest ideas or solutions when they just can’t find one, but mostly we stay out of the way. It’s their time and their space and we know that they are not wasting either.
See…it’s almost brilliant! It’s disguised as a club (After School Club), but really it’s just PLAY TIME.
Good things happen when kids play and use their imaginations and spend time with each other. They’re not curing cancer or solving world problems, but they are doing something important. They are being kids–playful, creative, energetic kids. And who knows what they’ll create and engineer in the future because they were given time to do these things?
It’s fun to share this time with them and it’s a good reminder that we all need play time.
So…go outside and play!