Where is Everyone?

It was another glorious day in our sunny California. If you are from the east coast and start feeling some resentment, don’t. The rainy season has finally caught up with us.  I know we have badly needed it, but does anyone know when it’s going to stop raining? Anyways, it was nice outside, so I took my boys to the park. At first my sons kicked the ball, then  had some good time on the swing, but it wasn’t long when my five-year old was done playing with his baby brother and  had a “better” idea. “Mommy, let’s play sleepy town!” He exclaimed excitedly. “What’s sleepy town?” I asked lazily. I knew he wanted to play a pretend game (which I ‘m no longer as good as I used to be thirty years ago) and I needed some time to either find an excuse or switch gears.  But now that I showed some interest, even though lukewarm, his just eyes lit up. He explained to me that I was going to fall asleep and then wake up in some unknown, scary place. I would see him, but I wouldn’t know who he was… And as he was going over the details of his intricate script, I was filling my head with wishful thinking. I wished there was a single five year old in the park to play with my son. How come the park  was empty on such a perfect day! Where is everyone? Where are the other kids?

Actually, I knew exactly where they were. Some were at home playing with their siblings or their computers. Others  had afternoon classes. From reading to art and tennis, today’s kids have a lot on their plate. I have nothing against organized activities. I would be a hypocrite if I said otherwise. I also drive my son to  TaeKwonDo practice and Spanish. When a child is ready for an organized activity AND wants to commit to it, organized programs can enhance child’s development in so many different ways. However, the question remains, can an organized  activity substitute a play date with his friends? In my opinion it can’t.

The pretend game, about which my son was so thrilled, is such a powerful learning tool in children’s hands. Or minds, rather. It unlocks their imagination, unfolds their creativity, enhances planning skills and triggers critical thinking. Playing in a group is children’s very first step into working in a team. Have you ever seen how easily kids fit into different roles, when playing together. There is always a leader, there are followers. There is someone with a bright idea, there are executors of the idea. Yes, there are also bullies, but even they  are a valuable part of the mix. They give our children a chance to stand up for themselves or others. What’s better to boost one’s confidence and awaken a hero in our little ones?

Organized classes, on the other hand, however useful and effective in developing cognitive and physical skills, teaching discipline and  following instructions, don’t offer the same advantages.  Children whose time is always planned for them struggle with setting goals and planning their own free time. They are often bored even in the room full of toys, they need attention and supervision in order to focus. They need an animator because that’s what they are used to. Is it really the way it should be?

In other words, fellow parents, today you have a valid excuse, because it is raining.  Or snowing, in most of the country. But as soon as the sky turns blue again, why don’t you bring your children to a local playground. Ask your friend to come along, so you can have someone to chat with. After all it’s cheaper than your children’s classes, and you won’t have to wait long to reap its benefits, besides rosy cheeks and healthy appetite, that is. You will know what I am talking about when you see your children making new friends and playing games too imaginary for us, parents, to understand.

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