Play, the Natural Family Way

The value and significance of childhood play has been broadly documented. Once believed to be an activity of indulgence, play is now understood to be a vital component of a healthful childhood and a springboard for adaptive and positive functioning in adulthood. It promotes emotional and cognitive development, cultivates social skills such as conflict resolution and cooperation, and stokes creativity. In my social work education and career, I have even studied and observed the brilliant, skilled use of play as a means of therapy for children. Play is powerful stuff!

I’ve learned in my relatively short parenthood journey that it is ridiculously easy to get pulled in by the promise of “educational” toys, music, and DVDs. Our love and dedication as parents makes us vulnerable; we lovingly want to give our babes every possible advantage towards becoming well-thought, kind, creatures. Studies have revealed, though, that those blinging, singing educational toys actually fail to deliver on their marketed promises. And others now recognize what we as attached parents have always understood: the best, most influential toy your child can have is  you.

We’ve tried hard to stem the surge of those kinds of toys into our home. We don’t buy them. Usually these toys have been given us to as thoughtful, well-intentioned gifts, and we’re grateful that someone cares enough to think of our son in this way. We pull those toys out as a matter of exception, usually for specific circumstances (like, for example, a long road trip), and as we rotate one in we rotate another out.

We’ve visited the homes of friends where shelves bulge and erupt with toys, where even I feel a bit overstimulated by the bounty of bright, loud, plastic playthings. In our home we’ve deliberately chosen to limit not just the types of toys, but also the amount of toys present. I especially love this perspective on why having fewer toys actually benefits your children. (Really, if you click on only one link from this post, make it this one. It’s an insightful read. And if you are interested in ways to cull your current toy stockpile, here are some pointers.)

We focus, instead, on time spent and activities enjoyed together as a family. Play is darn fun and can serve to expend our little ones’ bottomless energy, but it can also be a delightfully effective way to enrich attachment. And, you know what? These kinds of activities are often free or awesomely inexpensive–just one more example of how natural parents are richer.

Taking walks is a huge hit for us right now. We live just blocks away from a sprawling park with towering old trees, winding walking paths, and a safe playground. We collect leaves, smell flowers, pet moss on tree trunks, wave to robins and count squirrels. We take our shoes off and kick balls in the grass. Nature is free and wild, and little ones benefit from time spent outdoors with their caregivers.

Looking for other ideas for easy, mostly inexpensive ways to play with your toddler? Here are some fun ideas. Or perhaps other nifty ways to get your nature on with your half-pint? Here is a good place to start.

What kinds of toys does your child dig the most? What kind of activities do you enjoy doing with your kiddos? Have any favorite resources for natural play?

Best play space Rhianna ever made for her 17-month-old son? Dedicating a whole kitchen cabinet to him and filling it with random inexpensive kitchen related items like egg cartons, empty spice containers, herbal tea boxes, wooden spoons, and play food. She lives in St. Louis and spends a good deal of time in Tower Grove Park, where her toddler enthusiastically gifts her with sweetgum balls, chunks of mulch, pebbles, and beheaded flowers.

***********************************************************************************************************

Did you know The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year is now for sale? Are you interested in learning more about gentle, mom and baby-friendly practices that foster a joyful, connected relationship? Want to introduce a pregnant friend to natural parenting? Check out our website or head over to Amazon to grab your copy today!
************************************************************************************************************

About these ads

5 thoughts on “Play, the Natural Family Way”

  1. LOVE Tower Grove Park. Also, go to the Botanical Gardens on Saturday mornings. It is free to STL residents. Good times.

  2. Isn’t the botanical garden rad? It’s free on Wednesday mornings, too, and we’ve had a great time at the children’s garden there. Love it! :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s