Walking along to my sister's house one beautiful sunny morning last week I came across this sign. It struck me as having something more to say than just instructing people to drive carefully. What if I took this as a little 'nudge' or as a motto for family life. "Mum! Dad! Slow down, there are children at play here!" The very phrase 'children at play' can mean so much. Children doing what they do best, doing what is their right to do, doing what they need to do. There have been several sundays recently where my husband and I have been keen to get out for a walk or visit a local garden centre and we've realised that our girls were just so happy running around in the garden or were so caught up in a game of their own imagining. We've realised that after a week of school and nursery they just need some time and space to be themselves and unwind through the form of play.
One of the most inspiring books I've come across about play is 'The Genius of Play' by Sally Jenkinson. In it she stresses the importance of free play as well as the fact that parents can be attentive to their play without being too intrusive. She also writes about the fact that children have too many toys these days and overly commercial ones at that. In all the literature I've read about toys and play they always stress the importance of toys which can lead to creative and imaginative play rather than the child simply being a user of a toy designed by an adult to entertain a child. The idea is that the entertainment should come from the child herself. The most striking element of the book is when the author writes about the "brutalisation by saturation entertainment" of our children and how they are being "robbed of the carefree hours in which they should be enjoying the nourishing and creative forces of play".
Without doubt, children should play and should be encouraged to do so by their parents with the kind of toys which will nourish them and be used as tools for their imagination. Some of our favourites in this house include;
- a basket of small knitted blankets and squares (employed in games nearly every day)
- a set of plain wooden blocks
- a bag of fairy wool (unspun wool which is often used as beds for animals, grass or hay)
- a box of feathers, pom poms and ice lolly sticks
- a basket of seasonal items, shells, acorns and conkers, pinecones, etc
In my time as teacher I have seen the absolute importance of valuing what it is a child has to say and wants to do. Equally, as a parent, valuing the play of our children shows that we value their games, their imagination, their creativity; it shows that we value them.