There is nothing more magical than the imagination of a child. Given the opportunity to play in the great outdoors, there is no end to the fun that can be had, the lessons learned, the games invented. One of the things I have noticed about the adults in our culture is how very uncomfortable they become when encouraged to just let the child be.
They feel that they should be directing, playing with and teaching the child, and worry that they are not providing enough stimulation. I have even heard parents criticised by other mothers who whisper in not quite low enough tones, about the mother who just sat back chatting or reading the paper while her child was playing at the park – Oh the shame of it! As the mother of a very imaginative toddler who is perfectly capable of making his own fun, I am often frustrated by how full on other adults can be and how leading they are in his actions. Leading is another word for controlling and although I’m sure the intention is to make the game more fun or educational, what they don’t realise is that they are in fact controlling, where they have no place in doing so.
I think one of the things that unsettles adults the most, is the pace of the child’s play. Left to their own devices things can progress frustratingly slowly, as the child explores each rock at the beach, maybe draws a line in the sand with a finger tip, tastes a grain, bangs rocks together. Then the adult jumps in to action, “Shall we dig a hole” “Oh what a big rock you have, can you stack them?” What shall we do now? Would you like to go over there?” All good intentions no doubt but what they don’t realise is that they have interrupted an already occupied mind.
On the other end of the scale is the fast paced play which adults feel they need to get a handle on – “Don’t climb too high” “That voice is too loud, shall we play a whisper game?” and inventing other distractions to curb the child’s uninhibited energy. Parents say how draining their job is and feel they have to be “on” at all times. They worry that their child is bored, that they don’t have enough toys, that they are taking too many risks and they cant help but get involved.
The reality is that when an adult repeatedly interrupts a child at play, they are undermining what the child had been doing. They don’t give them the space to develop their imagination, and as time passes these children will be unable to fathom how to entertain themselves, how to create games and enjoy the simple discoveries that nature has in store. They will rely heavily on adult interaction and become demanding on the parents energy and time. Then the adults will wonder why their 4 year old, their 7 year old can never play independently. The answer is that they have never learned how to.
Let me just point out that there is definitely at time and a place for adults to join in with the play experience. But your place should be as a partner, as a fellow dreamer, not as the leader, the controller. There is nothing more thrilling than chasing your little one around a field, tickling them, looking for bugs under rocks and inventing stories! But don’t feel that you always need to be involved. Next time you feel like you should offer suggestions and direct your child’s explorations, just wait. See what you have been missing. Your child is having a wonderful time running his fingers through the sand and there is nothing you need to do to add to this experience except to let him be in this moment. So just relax, step back and watch the magic unfold.