The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.
I recently read this Plato quote in the book In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore. I was really inspired by this quote as it came at a time when I was having an ah-ha moment as a parent (a moment that I’m ashamed to admit). It’s so easy and tempting to push the girls aside and put them in front of the tv, especially during times when my workload is heavier. We had a few weeks of crazy earlier this summer and all of a sudden, I realized the girls were basically being babysat by the tv. Zoe was not obeying well, she was being mean to Naomi, she hardly wanted to eat meals, and nothing else interested her; she only ever wanted to watch more tv! And I didn’t even love the shows they were watching, but out of desperation, I made exceptions and excuses like “at least they’re [trying to] teach the girls a good lesson.” Even though I always knew this arrangement wasn’t ideal, I decided that it had to end. That was my ah-ha moment.
As much as my daughters do not need tv, they do need unstructured (but somewhat supervised…because they are toddlers and toddlers don’t know what’s good and bad for them) play time. They need time to explore, to use their imaginations, to dig in the garden, to make messes. To build block towers and knock them down, to play with their dolls. To sit quietly in bed for 30 minutes and read books. To – gasp – even be bored. To learn how to do nothing.
My default parenting style – when they aren’t in front of the tv – is to hover over my kids, not allowing them to do any activity that makes too much of a mess, and to move them from one structured activity or outing to the next, all day long. Painting for 5 minutes, check! Reading for 30 seconds (hello, short attention spans), check! Tv for 1 hour, check! This for 20 minutes, that for 15 minutes, check! Whirlwind 2 hour trip running a million errands around town, check! Packing as much as I can into our days, trying to be the most efficient with our time to make every second count, and in the process burning out and not doing anything particularly well.
I don’t want my girls to grow up too fast, to be mini adults with adult schedules by the time they’re 5. I don’t want them to have cellphones before they drive. I don’t want them to think that faster, more, busier, etc., are better. I do want them to explore the world around them, to realize that doing nothing isn’t a bad thing, to cherish their childhood. So how do we make this switch?
There are a few ways we’re making changes…:
Zoe just recently had her third birthday; she’s the busiest little three year old that I know (like mother like daughter). She always wants to be involved and be my “helper.” When I give her the opportunity, her imagination runs wild. I’m trying to learn how to embrace and encourage that.
A few days ago, I found her at the kitchen table, arranging some props I had forgotten to put away after a photo shoot. She was placing them this way and that way. She had found the oatmeal in the pantry and had dumped it into one of my bowls. She’d grabbed our salt & pepper pinch bowls and sprinkled some into the oats. When I walked into the kitchen, my initial reaction was to stop her from making the increasingly messy mess and quickly usher her away from my breakable props. But then I remembered that Plato quote, and stopped myself. She was playing amongst lovely things. She was measuring, counting, feeling, narrating. She was using her imagination, walking her “audience” (probably snapchat) through the process of making granola. She was being extremely gentle with the props. She played like that for almost an hour.
So, here I am, three years into being a parent and just when I feel like I’ve mastered it, I realize I’m just barely getting it, and still have so much to learn. I have a feeling this is going to be a common feeling over the next 20 years. But I’m so grateful for the opportunities to learn and grow and realize I’m not perfect and that I need to rely on the Lord in all my shortcomings!
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