Yesterday I read Gretchen Joanna's blog post, What You Put in the Dough You'll Find in the Cake. It's a great article about children and the education we "bake into the cake" that is their lives. It got me to thinking about modern families living in this high tech, modern world. It can't be easy. Raising children isn't, but how much more complicated is it today compared to when we were kids? It made me realize how fortunate and blessed I've been to raise my children in a quiet place in the country away from a fast-paced world that has little time for children who want to dawdle about a flower garden or climb trees or lie in the grass watching clouds go by.
I've been doing some thinking about the children I know and love. My own children are grown and off living their lives, some of them with children of their own. I feel blessed to be near my grandchildren, and since I am, I see them lots and I feel like I know them in a very intimate yet ordinary way. I watch them play, and sometimes I play with them. Most of the time, I am just outdoors working at something and they are with me. We aren't doing anything special. We just do ordinary things together, but for some reason, the children think it's magical at Gram's house and the best fun ever. I tell my kids that I really do not spoil their children, I just do my thing with the grandkids by my side, and they are mostly doing their things. There are times when the Littles want to help me: watering plants with a watering can, picking up sticks from the lawn, or carrying buckets of apples or fresh-picked carrots. Most of the time though, they are playing by themselves.
What I love to do is to watch them play out of the corner of my eye. I rarely tell them what to do, but I do offer them a few tools to "play" with. There are garden shovels and tin plates to make mud pies and dirt cakes. There have been many birthday cakes made for the dogs, Sue and Charlie, complete with flower seed sprinkles or flower petal decorations on top. Shovels also create castles or dig holes for "planting" plucked flowers. The Littles find out quickly that rootless flowers don't stay pretty for long.
In the flower garden there are tiny pebbles that act as a mulch, but to the children, they are beautiful, colorful gems to be studied and spilled from hand to hand. There is a large ocean rock in the garden that has finger-sized holes all over it, and it makes the the very best sorting bin. Smooth pebbles go into the holes and some spill out of holes. Again and again they are dumped out and refilled.
Seed study happens all through the summer. The children are naturally curious, so an unusual flower seed pod is instantly spotted and picked and given to me to identify or to find the seeds within. Poppy seeds are such fun to shake out like a pepper shaker. Flax and Love-in-a-Mist pods crumble and reveal small pepper-sized seeds too. Hollyhock seeds are like many tiny slices of bread all in a circle. What a beautiful play-ground God made.
There are always sticks lying around and the dogs will gladly play fetch as long as wee hands will throw the sticks. Dogs also must withstand having water poured on them from a watering can or dirt sprinkled over them -- all in good fun, of course.
Another game that is played is Running Down the Hill to the apple trees below and back up. Don't we all wish we had that youthful energy to run up and down hills all day? The very best hill game is Rolling Down the Hill. This, I confess, I did teach them. I remember rolling down grassy hills when I was a girl, and I thought my granchildren would think it fun too. They do! So much giggling happens when one rolls down hills, and so much dizzy walking after.
There are big rocks to climb on and sit on and pretend on. It is also fun to pour water on rocks for some reason. Maybe it's the splashing. It must be because the other favorite play to be had is when I take the children to the pond near our house. What do we do there? We scare up frogs that hop into the water, we throw sticks in the water for the dogs to fetch, and we throw rocks in the water. Why? To watch them splash, of course. Big rocks make big splashes and little rocks make little splashes and sticks float. Great lessons.
The Big October Snow gave us some fun with sledding and snowballs and snowmen. When the temperatures begin to really freeze this winter, we'll go back to the pond for ice skating. Peach reminded me that we must remember to skate when the pond freezes over like we did last year. Do you remember the pink skates?
I'm writing down all these ordinary play ideas to remind myself and to remind parents that children don't need a lot of stuff to be very happy at playing. The only real toys that stood the test of time at our house were wood blocks, Legos, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, a few puzzles for little ones, Tonka trucks and toy tractors, and books. Are books toys? I'm not sure, but they stimulate the imagination and play, so I'll count them. My favorite toys to give are books.
What I learned from my own children is that they needed a Time for Play. What I am enjoying with my grandchildren is watching them make their own Play. When I say that children need time for play, I don't mean a time for organized sports with parents dictating and running it. That is something altogether different. I'm talking about children deciding to play ball together or make mud pies or make tents under the clothesline without any adults telling them how (unless asked). I'm talking about giving children the freedom and time to think their own thoughts and play their own kinds of play. Just yesterday I watched Peach and Toodles play with a fuzzy caterpillar for over an hour. They talked to it, and set it down here on a log and there on the grass, and then they let it crawl on their arms and stuck it to their shirts. The word, wonder comes to mind. I think wonder and play go together well, don't you? What are some favorite kinds of play you remember growing up?