Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~ GK Chesterton

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

7 Posts, 7 Days: Playing

Welcome back to Day 2 of 7 Posts, 7 Days!

Neither toddlers nor teenagers are very terrifying to me, if I can keep in mind two things: proper sleep and proper nutrition. For me, the most difficult years are between the ages of 4 and 6.  Something happens to my kids at that phase that pushes the limits of my sanity.  But those other ages that have such a bad reputation, terrible twos or snarky and emotional teens, have not bothered me when I can keep ahead of the game with kids who are well rested and well nourished.

The well rested thing gets to be a bit of a challenge when children haven’t had enough physical activity during the day.  My children do have organized activities that help with their needs for some sort of physical outlet, but it is necessary to work something, anything, into the schedule, on days that they don’t.  Or on days when even dance class or baseball are not enough.  That goes especially during these cold, winter, housebound days.  My favorite plan: go do something outside.

I was thinking about this, after reading a post over at The Art of Simple.  Last week, when I was being driven crazy by the weather that was shifting from freezing rain to near-60 and back to cold again, there was posted Go Play Outside, from one of the Art of Simple contributors.  This article goes beyond the benefits to children’s physical health.  I’d like to share this quote:
“When a child is out in nature, all the senses get activated. He is immersed in something bigger than himself, rather than focusing narrowly on one thing, such as a computer screen. He’s seeing, hearing, touching, even tasting.

"Out in nature, a child’s brain has the chance to rejuvenate, so the next time he has to focus and pay attention, perhaps in school, he’ll do better…But even if kids don’t have any of the specific problems mentioned above, kids who don’t get out much lack the sense of wonder that only nature can provide.”

I like that. Observation has shown this to be true.  The kids go out to play, but the running around, biking, jumping rope, or scootering turns into something more soulful.  Suddenly, they are contemplating clouds, or the behavior of bugs, or watching how the remnants of snow melt away under the prodding of a bicycle tire.  The mind wanders."

Something clicked for me.  It isn’t just that the children are outside, tiring themselves out so they’ll rest properly, so that they’ll have a more pleasant disposition.  Rather, I believe that part of the “magic” worked on them is that the outside play is a bit of a retreat.  Yes, there is the physical component of play, but when left unimpeded, children at play have the chance to be contemplative, even if they don’t realize that’s what they’re doing.

I’m sure of this: children benefit emotionally and spiritually from unstructured play as much as they do physically.  I still believe that proper rest and proper nutrition are the keys to happy children, but perhaps the definition of “rest” should be broadened to include downtime, not just sleep time.    And, it’s a safe bet that adults benefit from such daily retreats, as well.  So, go play!

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