Our kids are tired and burnout. For parents and kids alike, life and work turned upside down last March. Being home together constantly has caused frustration and stress. Kids that used to fight for any sort of screen time are now technology weary. Furthermore, I have seen an extreme U-turn with my homeschool and virtual students, My own teaching and enrichment tools, once excitedly fresh with technology, now have been turned over to kinetic sand, Legos, and action figures. Minds now light up as imagination is sparked by replacing screens with toys!

Childhood used to include hours of physical play on neighborhood streets, fun with unscripted friend interactions, and imaginative “pretend.” Through all these activities children of past generations learned to play. They used their minds, consequently, they didn’t need to be entertained nearly as much as our current generation.

Important Play

Somewhere down the line, we lost that. Too many children require near-constant parental attention to function. They are unable to entertain themselves; they are bored when they have no one telling them what or HOW to play. Moreover, this is exhausting for parents who are already juggling full-time jobs, facilitating virtual schooling, and running demanding family appointment calendars.

Play – unscripted, self-guided, creative, imaginative play – is training for adulthood. If children are not using their imagination through play in childhood they will struggle to be creative thinkers possessing the tools to propel their generation to be the innovators of the future.

Lessons Of The Past

Toys of yesteryear sometimes looked down upon now, promoted dreams of future careers. Tinker Toys, Legos, wooden blocks, Erector Sets, and Lincoln Logs all inspire a love of building and perhaps even a future draftsman or architect. The list goes on for all sorts of toys and play. Assembling car models, magic kits, dollhouses, playhouses, tents, cardboard box castles, sandboxes, backyard baseball diamonds, and soccer fields,… there are just so many things that can make a child’s imagination soar!

Yes, even Barbies and action figures (the PLAY kind, not the collectibles) have futuristic value. Hours of fun were found in my house with 12-inch Ninja Turtles, a Turtle Sewer, a Barbie Camper, Barbies, a couple of G.I. Joes, and four New Kids on the Block. Occasionally there were gender-skewed roles implied in these toys, however, as parents, we simply pointed out that Barbie, Skipper, Jordan, Danny, and Joey could help Leonardo, Splinter, and the gang fight injustice and then take a camping trip together. Watching our children act out roles and play, we got a firm understanding of how they saw not just gender roles but social interaction in general. If we observed something not in line with our values and morals, we found it a great way to prompt discussion and interactive parenting.

There is no debating the value of outside, physical play. Unfortunately, we have evolved it all into organized sports that are created, scripted, and run by adults; now even that has been taken away by this pandemic. Perhaps this is the one place COVID is giving us a bit of positive karma. Kids have been seen on bikes, playing basketball in the driveway, riding skateboards, or creating chalk-art all on their own; it gives hope.

Preparing For Life

Play is life preparation.  It is concerning that the extent of play for today’s kids is too often scripted by adults. Parents need to get over the societal expectation that being a good parent requires planning every moment of a child’s life – from dance lessons to sports to scheduled “screentime” with expensive video games, and playdates — children don’t all need that! Those are media- and social-driven fallacies that aren’t necessarily best for children but certainly drive however greatly support consumerism.

Looking Forward

We need to let children get bored. Let them experience idle time without organized, adult-driven play. Provide them with toys that will spark the imagination: blocks, dolls, stuffed animals, building sets, games, action figures, etc, and then step back and tell them to do “their job” – figure it out and PLAY. It could take a while, those skills are rusty but soon parents might be surprised. Far too often young children, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, most commonly answer YouTubers, Social Influencer, or Professional Athletes. The reality of our society is we need for more children to aspire to be teachers, inventors, doctors, soldiers, scientists, activists, firemen, or police officers, etc. Pretend play and imagination encourage goals and dreams – allowing our children to play is the way to create those dreams to which they can aspire.

Our kids are tired and burnout. For parents and kids alike, life and work turned upside down last March. Being home together all the time has caused us all to witness the frustration and stress. Kids that used to fight for any sort of screen time are now technology weary. . Learning like that doesn’t come from a screen, playdate or even an organized, paid kid activity, it comes from on-the-job learning:

PLAY!