Welcoming My Children’s Play

Yesterday, my girls pulled out Legos and were spread out on the dining room table all afternoon. I heard them making up stories, integrating with each other’s surprising plot lines with ease, and letting their imaginations run wild. I heard happy chatter as they came up with ideas for their Legoland and cultivated a comradeship, teamwork skills and communication skills with each other.

As my children played, they were learning and practicing how to communicate, created ideas, roll with changes, create solutions to problems, keep peace with each other, compromise, build long-term attention, and work with their hands to build and create what their minds imagined.

We had spent the morning doing our school lessons, but could not teach any of that in a classroom setting. And if I had organized their play, I would have been in the way of their mental development. What my girls practiced and learned all afternoon was invaluable to their life…arguably more important that whether that list of spelling words we will have to re-visit next week.

Yes, The dining room was a mess all day, and still is today as they want to continue developing their world. But I embrace nearly any reasonable mess as for my children’s play.

My children have built doll-houses with cardboard boxes that can be an unsightly mess in any room as they pull out their dolls and accessories to use in cardboard boxes.

The other day I came in to my son’s room to see books nearly covering the floor as he was using them for paths for his cars.

Blankets and sheets drape from wall to wall at times as my children make tents and houses for their play.

Our sofa cushions are frequently pulled off to use for walls for these imaginative houses.

We embrace play-doh, finger paint, kinetic sand, and all sorts of messy substances. We have found a lot of these messier toys at Goodwill…unopened…I know some mother did not want to deal with the mess and had moved the gift on.

My children delight themselves outside in the dirt, mud, and leaves. I love seeing them good and dirty, knowing that they have played well as children should.

There is no mess that cannot be cleaned up (Well almost no mess…we have had some haunt us for years…like glitter) But no matter the pick-up, the education my children get out of extravagant, messy play is so invaluable, I count our clean-up time an investment.

Now at this point, readers will probably feel my children run wild. But we do have boundaries to play that make it reasonable.

One of those guidelines is that before another activity happens, whatever has been going on get picked up. For instance, if my children are playing with sofa cushions and blankets in the living room and the neighbor’s drop over to play. There is no going out to play until the living room has been cleaned up. How many times we have had neighbors cheerfully chip in the clean-up so the children can play together.

Another guideline is that if you don’t want to pick it up, don’t get it out. My children need to pick up whatever they get out, but they also need to think about how long they have to play and if the word to prepare for play is worth the work to clean-up.

I do not help clean-up, but I do manage the process when needed. In our home, those who mess up are the ones who clean up. I feel this is an important life-skill. So no matter how tempted I am to quickly pick up something and put it away, I will walk by and call the child who got it out to put it away. When my children were really little I did help them, but I did not do it myself, they had to do their share. My child with autism would be unable to clean up a big mess, so I would teach her to pick up things by color. Find all the red things and put them away. Then find all the yellow things. She is now my fastest cleaner. It doesn’t faze her a bit, but she needed coaching to get there.