20140416_110611I will never forget a hilarious babysitting moment that helped give me insight into how children play, before I had my own.  The little boy and I were playing with a stuffed monkey.  At one point, the boy hit the monkey.  Staying in character as the voice of the monkey, I stated "I'm telling" and proceeded to walk the monkey towards the door.  The boy was so engaged in play that he forgot all about me and believed the monkey was real.  He panicked when the monkey began to head toward the door to tell on him, and quickly ran to the kitchen to grab a banana.  Then running after the monkey, the little boy offered the banana and a favorite toy in order to distract the monkey form getting him into trouble.  It was all I could do not to fall on the floor laughing.  The funniest part about his natural reaction to avoid trouble is that the very person controlling the monkey is the one who would have been reported to.

Recently, I spoke about play with a speech pathologist who works with children.  She was concerned with how few parents take the time to play with their children.  As adults we become consumed with lists that we can check off.  Play is something that can seem to be a waste of time to the average adult.  There is nothing to show for it at the end of the day and it feels more like a reward for hard work done, than a necessary part of life.  At the end of the day we can physically show that we have done laundry, cleaned the bathrooms, made dinner, and so on.  Sitting on the floor for hours playing with our children cannot be physically showcased at the end of the day.  The time we give our kids however builds up over the years and will one day "show" to be more important than all of the laundry we have ever done.

One of my proudest moments as a mom was when a friend said to me that she could tell I was a stay-at-home mom, explaining that the time I put into my son's daily growth and development was obvious to her.  Suddenly the craziness and frustration running through my head as I thought of a day-in-the-life of this stay-at-home mom seemed to be worth it to someone other than me!

We are called to approach the world with a child-like faith, which is experienced in all that we do and say.  Thankfully, I have always been more of a Mary than a Martha when it comes to recognizing and savoring the importance of the moment.  Keep in mind that this has never helped me to meet deadlines or create and accomplish check lists.  There is definitely a give and take quality in both.

For a child, their work is play and this is important for the adult to recognize.  The child's growth through play should be given the dignity of "work."  I can't tell you how many times I remember hearing as a child that it must be nice to be able to play all day.  But honestly, what else does a child have to do?  Even children who are required to work on family farms and complete many chores find ways to incorporate play into all that they do.  This should not be something that a child feels guilty or self-conscious about, because we as parents don't want them to grow up believing that their worth is solely tied up in what they "do."

"Play is crucial for your child's social, emotional, physical, and cognitive growth."  Play is constructive for the child in exploring the boundaries of the world around them, and learning how to problem-solve.  Children display empathy and other emotions through imaginary play, such as the little boy I babysat for "bribing" the monkey.  This is not abnormal, nor does it mean he has a future in politics!  Children often practice social cues in imaginary settings.  They use manners with their toys, put band-aids on dolls, and show concern for a stuffed animal with a stomach ache.

Parents can aid their child's further development by helping to cultivate these proper emotions and social responses.  Little ones are always watching their parents in order to learn.  As they enter the toddler phase, they begin to mimic those around them and give us a good laugh at our miniature reflection in action.  Parents should always model the proper way to complete a task and then slowly walk through the task again at their child's level and pace.  Songs and games are extremely helpful in completing mundane tasks such as cleaning up.

Remember however, that at the end of the day, the parent should be able to "check off" at least a half hour of "play" with their child from their list.  This means picking up the stuffed animal, joining the tea party, being the audience for the living room performance, the medical doctor for the injured baby doll, and even the horse for the cowboy!

What are the funniest moments you have experienced with children lost in "play"? 

Copyright 2014 Kimberly Cook