For centuries, children around the world have flopped down on the grass to watch an ant or stare up at the clouds. This is not a waste of time when we consider the fact that God also needs space and time and silence to speak into our children’s lives. If we keep them in a constant cycle of enriching activities so will snatch a place in the best pre-school and in the best university will they have learned how to nurture their spirits with listening prayer?
Yes, children need free, unstructured time to let their imaginations fly and God needs time and space to whisper to their hearts.
The Rise of Fear-Based Parenting
When my oldest children started school in the mid to late eighty’s, they played marbles, bounced tennis balls off the school wall and could bring real baseballs and basketballs to school. In short, they played like children have played for generations. By the time they were in grade eight, the principals had banned marbles and real balls from the schoolyard. Why? They were too dangerous!
My oldest daughter drew a picture entitled “Recess at St. Mike’s” that shows a girl, standing frozen in place, with a ball and chain around her ankle. Quite revealing, isn’t it?
When I was a child, we hopped on bikes without helmets, only wore sunscreen at the beach and ate peanut butter sandwiches. I understand that the world has changed but along with new, necessary safety measures this generation has put into place, society has burdened children with fear.
Childhood is a time to play in freedom and joy, freedom to lose themselves in the sheer joy of the present moment, without nagging regret about the past or fear of the future. My family was and is fortunate to live in the country, where my children roamed safely, caught frogs, built forts, explored a creek and created wonderful imaginative game.
One example stands out in my mind. I had gathered everyone for dinner, but we were waiting for Anthony. Someone spotted him out the window and called the rest of us over to see him. There was Anthony on the platform of our large wooden play structure, wearing his usual uniform consisting of a black cape, black barn boots and grey felt hat, engaged in a fierce sword fight with an imaginary enemy. Suddenly he clutched his chest and staggered over to lean on the railing. Then rallying his draining energy and stamina, he suddenly rose up and with a courageous flourish thrust his sword into his evil opponent and collapsed in exhaustion and agony.
We were all delighted with his imaginary drama.
Childhood should be a time to play with freedom and joy, without fear. Children need unstructured time for free play and they even need time to be bored because boredom is the birthplace of creativity. It is all too easy to fill every moment with the noise and distraction of television and the internet. While these activities might keep our kids quiet, it does not help them learn how to discover the world around them and develop their own unique talents. Technological noise also shuts out the voice of God.
connecting with theology is a verb