Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Making Time for Uninterrupted Play

Each week, I write a few paragraphs for the newsletter at my school. I wrote this one a few weeks back about trying to make time to spend time with Oliver - after reading it, a number of parents told me they were going to try it out with their children...

"Making Time for Uninterrupted Play"
Since I have a long commute, I feel the obligatory guilt about not spending enough time with my son, Oliver. As a way of bargaining, I’ve been trying to spend as much time with him each day as I spend in the car, which is approximately 2 hours. As a working parent, it’s a challenge for me to spend 2 quality hours with him without being distracted (especially now that baseball season is in high gear). It’s so easy, once he’s hit an independent playing streak, to quietly sneak off to my computer to check box scores, respond to an email I’ve been putting off for too long, or clean the dishes in the sink. Throw in the fact that I have to shower in the morning and am beat at the end of a workday, and it’s a real challenge. So the weekends are my real opportunity to connect with him.

Many people asked me how my weekend was last week, and for some reason, it’s caused me to reflect more often than I normally do. This past weekend, during the times we hadn’t made any plans, I decided to let Oliver lead our play. Often, I take the initiative, because I want him to have a diverse play experience, and I feel like I can provide that for him. But there’s something about how much a child is invested in an activity when it’s their idea, and not yours. At Parker we often talk about self-directed activities and teacher-directed activities. Without exception, children have a harder time fully participating when the activity has been the brainchild of another person.

Oliver’s reached the point developmentally where he’s able to engage in fantasy play, and not look at the world in a completely literal sense (for example, when I’d ask him, “Oliver, are you hungry?” he’d respond, “No, I’m Oli”). And so this weekend I made a vow to let his world of fantasy come out and to not become distracted when I was playing with him. I let him direct our activities, and I loyally followed, with no plans or map to guide us. He’s been into dragons lately, and so we hid from them together under the table. “Look, a dragon!” he’d say, and we’d run into the other room, find the dragon, and run back to our hiding place. The play developed when our cat, Franco, sauntered by and Oliver stated, “There’s the dragon!” The poor cat wasn’t prepared for us bold adventurers involving him in our script, but played along, albeit lazily. Later, the dragon became a box of cereal, and Oliver vanquished of him by insisting that he had to eat a bowl of Cheerios.

What I found was that once I allowed myself to become immersed in his world and his play, it was incredibly rich, wholly rewarding, and it brought our relationship to a new level. The time didn't drag by, and I didn't feel the need to augment the play in the slightest. I simply asked questions that I thought might help him create more of the script and show him I was invested in his imagination - but only peppered them in here and there. I didn't grill him with, "Where's the dragon? What color is he? Can you say the /f/ sound in fire-breathing? Let's count the talons!"

The “dragon” script has created a new dialogue between us, and provides good memories and humor when we need it. I encourage all of you to take the bold step of not having any plans with your child, ignoring the computer and your daily tasks, and letting them lead you in a couple hours of uninterrupted play. It’s worth it.
- Matt

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