Ancient wisdom declares "The family that prays together stays together" and I absolutely agree. Even so, I'd like to add a little bit of new wisdom to go along with the old.
I'm happy to see that the concept of play is gaining traction in educational circles, especially when the topic is early childhood education. This is great news because play is the conduit for all early learning and, for very young children, play = learning. In fact, we all learn and grow through play no matter our age.
Early childhood development experts from Maria Montessori to Fred Rogers understood the necessity of play in the life of young children. Every good kindergarten teacher knows that children must play, and they have begun to push back on curriculum that is tightly scripted. Purposeful play is an appropriate teaching tool for the young and is highly desirable.
Play is vital in the development of the skills that young children need to grow. This is true. However, children aren't alone in the need for play. Play is good for everyone. Play helps us to bond with our group, challenges us to be social without the constraints of professionalism, and play helps lift our mood taking some of the burden of adulting off our shoulders for a bit of fun. Ya'll know it's okay to have fun sometimes, right? Right.
Ancient wisdom declares that "the family that prays together stays together" and I agree. Even so, I'd like to add a little bit of new wisdom to go along with that. How about we start a new old saying announcing to the world that "the family that plays together stays together." ? If we all start saying it, believing it, and acting on it we might just start something big!
Of all the happy families that I have known across the years there is a common theme running through them all: they play together. They spend time enjoying each other and sharing fun activities that include everyone. They have the knack of interrupting the never ending cycle of work, study, chores, sleep and breaking out in play. They understand that laughter and being cheerful adds a healthy balance to the amount of time most adults spend working and worrying. .
These families often don't even seem to know that they are doing anything special or remarkable. They are just doing what they do, and what they do is make the time to play. Families that do this have a special bond and have built up strength that helps them cope when the challenging times of life come along.
You can do this too. All it takes is just a bit of planning and determination to make playtime a part of your routine. No cost fun is even better, and there are plenty of fun things for families to do that are no or very low cost. Think of outdoor areas such as parks or ballfields. If your church has a paved parking lot maybe you can take your bikes there for a wide open space to ride.
A fun activity that includes everyone seems to be the sticking point for families who are learning to play together. If your family consists of more than one person, you may think it will be too challenging to come up with an activity that all will enjoy equally. Many families consist of a couple of people with only one real passionate interest, someone who dabbles in several activities and another one that has to be pried off the couch with a crow bar. Bringing these different types together is not as difficult as it may seem.
For family play to be fun for everyone, I have several little rules to follow. Here they are:
Everyone must be able to participate at some level, Activities could include hiking the paved, level paths through a state or county park or you can take on more challenging hikes. Our family has hiked many miles in the mountains with a two year old walking happily with the group. They have amazing stamina.
Any game rules are adapted to suit the age of the player. The four year old is allowed extra time to run to first base during kickball games, and is allowed many more than three strikes if whiffle ball is the game of the day. This is not about rules it's about fun.
Everybody plays. Everybody. Plays. No sad sacks pouting on the sidelines. There are times when everyone has to pretend to be happy until they are actually happy. It works.
Everyone regularly gets to suggest an activity that they enjoy and others go along with it even when it is not their chosen activity. Encourage everyone to find fun in all activities.
Do not be sucked in to thinking that family fun only takes place at big box theme parks. These overpriced and overcrowded venues certainly have some great attractions and I myself have enjoyed this type of vacation. Certainly making these trips can be fun but with a few conditions: a) They are paid for with cash not credit. b) You do other activities as a family across time so that fun and play rarely cost anything.
So let's get real. Many children do not get excited about going on a hike in the woods or a bike ride on the greenway or putting a worm on a hook and dipping it in the lake. In fact, there are a lot of kids who will really resist being pulled away from their video games no matter what kind of adventure is being offered.
Especially as children grow closer to adolescence they want to begin to pull away from the family unit and become more independent. Have them participate in play time anyway. Ignore any complaining and trust that they are enjoying being together in spite of themselves. This too shall pass. It will be worth the investment of time and patience as your family grows closer.
During adolescence my children referred to these outings as "Forced Family Fun" or "FFF" for short. I simply pretended that any and everything they said or did was fine and I pressed on with our outing or adventure or activity without fuss. They ended up making some great memories this way and our family did not completely unhinge during those years. It got a little frayed, but we remained intact. Your family will too.
Because money was very tight when my children were young we couldn't afford to eat fast food. So I always packed a picnic. What started as an economic necessity became a beloved tradition. To keep down the costs and to add to the sense of adventure try adding the element of picnicking to your next family play time. It really is a fun thing that families used to do often. Try it.
Taking time to play with and enjoy your family as the years go by will reap so many benefits. Not just for your children but for you. The way you spend the days and the weeks of your life is how you are spending your life. Fill the time with as much fun and happiness as you can without shirking the responsibilities that accompany raising a family. Find the balance and go play!