When I was little, my brother and I spent hours–no, days–playing games that we made up. Well, we thought we made them up. Thanks to a mint green tape recorder that I got for Christmas one year, lots of our games and other weird things are actually preserved on cassette tapes. We hosted fake radio programs, complete with news reports, weather and traffic, and, of course, commercials. We wrote and recorded songs using my brother’s Casio keyboard (One of our greatest hits was a patriotic number called “I’m Proud to Live in the USA.” It involved our version of harmony singing, which strangely required me to sing in a pitch so high that dogs came running.)
My brother also secretly recorded me yelling at him, then he would play it back later and make everyone laugh and laugh. I remember one recording in particular. I had gotten a Pogo Ball for my birthday. Do y’all remember those? He, as older brothers do, was annoying me by jumping on my brand new Pogo Ball, and on the cassette tape you can hear me hollering in an unbeatable Texas drawl, “Jeffreeeeey! Yew cainNAWT jump own my Poe Go Bawl! Yore gawna brayke eet!!!” Ah, yes, that one got lots of laughs from my loving family.
We did tons of other creative things, like creating a mail system between our rooms and writing letters with secret codes. We played church (He always got to the be the preacher. I’m still a little bitter about that). We played store and school and we had lip sync contests. We even tried some gravity experiments that involved jumping off of the swingset, and then the roof, with an umbrella. Don’t run out and try that one. The umbrella really doesn’t help you float to the ground like it does in cartoons.
It felt like our entire childhood was one big glorious ball of free time, to be spent in whatever fun way we could think of. We had video games and we watched TV and went to school, but the majority of our little lives were filled with thinking of neat things to try, and having a great time figuring out what was fun.
This is not the kind of life most children I know today live. Kids are overworked, over-stressed, and over-scheduled. It’s time that parents take a step back and remember that our kids don’t have to DO everything. The pressure that these babies feel at every turn to perform and to impress is just killing the creative spirits that they have been blessed with.
One thing your child needs today is time to play.
Real time, without conditions, without electronics, without direction. Just time for them to make decisions about what they want to try. Time for them to build elaborate cities with their blocks or to set up a shop in their rooms. Time for them to lie on the floor and giggle. Time for them to create something silly or weird and not at all beautiful or impressive.
They need time to be kids. Regular, non-genius, creative risk-takers who test out ideas and figure out what is fun. Without planned crafts from Pinterest. Without lessons or even morals-of-the-story. They need the joys of childhood: time to laugh, time to be mischievous, time to plan a game and carry it out, time to make memories that are care-free and easy.
Give them play time today. And just wait to see how they will amaze you when they’re not even trying.