Saturday, April 19, 2008

The children mostly played

Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play. Heraclitus.

There are more quotes about play here.

Yesterday was another day of basic 3Rs for Sean and mostly playing for Kieron and the younger ones. Kieron did do a math sheet. The bulk of their time though was spent on their bionicle game on the table, running in and outside to enjoy the newly emerging spring, and then in the afternoon, we drove down into the spring zone for our homeschool Stations of the Cross. We spend the first half hour gathering, the second half hour meditating on the Stations. Then we bring out the snacks and the kids just play while the adults just talk. It has been a good thing for the children: just playing.

I noticed how the snacks were at least half or two-thirds the “healthy” type of snacks. We had Oreos there but also nuts, carrots, and popcorn. The Oreos didn’t even get finished. I remember how when we first started the group each family would bring at least one, sometimes two types of sweet dessert. As the kids grew more comfortable with each other and started wanting to come to see their friends rather than for the snacks, the snack table became less of a draw and more of a resource for refueling and regathering.

Similarly, the Stations themselves at first were mostly a matter of the mothers saying them. As time went by the children have taken more of a role. Recently even Aidan has wanted to “take a Station” and he astonished me by having some of them memorized so he did not need my prompting to say them. Paddy gets in moods where he asks me about every detail….. what happens in this one? Other times Aidan pushes his stroller around and Paddy is more intrigued by the other children than by the pictures or the devotions.

There was a stage when the children tended to group in age groups when they played, and sometimes they still do, but often now you see all the ages (Paddy at five is usually the youngest and Kieron at 12 and a half is by a couple of months the oldest) grouping together — hunting for lizards, playing robbers or dinosaurs, moving from one activity to another just as I remember doing as a child. This weekly gathering has been a nice element of our lives. All the children feel comfortable with each other; they have all given Aidan and his quirks a nice foundation of acceptance. They admire his stroller as he pushes it around; he told one of the older girls, Rachel, that he had lost a tooth, and she praised him and looked inside his mouth where he pointed.

One of the moms and I were talking about how much everything in our society has to have a goal or product, often an economic one. Things that don’t “pay” in some concrete way are less valued than things that have a measurable quantitative benefit. We were talking about my oldest’s college experience (he is going to a college where he gets a “liberal arts” degree, a fine and rigorous one but one that does not pay itself off in terms of usefulness, and will leave him with some debts) but then we realized that some of what we were saying also applied to the life of a SAHM. I don’t get much pressure to make myself useful in economic terms but I know my friend does, and so do some of my other friends. That seems a bit reductionist; of course I want to make my life worthwhile, as does everybody, but that doesn’t always have to mean employment.


Later I thought that the free play the kids were doing fell into the same kind of category. We see benefits coming from it — the companionship, the enrichment of personal interests by sharing with friends, the skills developed in sorting out problems. But we aren’t just “doing socialization” or “learning life skills”. We’re letting them play, which makes for a larger thing, even if it is more difficult to weigh and measure precisely because it is larger.

The true object of all human life is play. G. K. Chesterton

The playing adult steps sideward into another reality; the playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery.Erik H. Erikson