Reinstating Play for Healthy Kids

Spring is on the way! In my day that meant playing outdoors but things have changed.

I’ve noticed that with all the advances in technology kids don’t play like they used to. In today’s world, I wonder if we haven’t lost many opportunities for children to exercise their thinking, problem-solving and creative skills. There’s also tremendous pressure to cut children’s play hours short to make room for more clubs, classes and school time. This pressure has even reached into our preschool population.

What I have been doing to help my grandchildren play without using the computer, TV, or electronic games, etc. is to introduce them to what I liked to do as a child. These more antiquated types of play are engaging because they encourage thought, imagination and observation.

My mother lived on a farm and she had a favorite past time. She would collect empty bottles that had pretty shapes; empty perfume bottles or small jars that pickles, olives and the like come in. Then she would head down to the creek with a box full of crepe paper scraps and make colored water. She kept her jars down there as a hidden treasure. When mom told my sisters and me about doing that we tried it. It was fun watching the small bits of paper color the water. Then we lined our jars up on a sunny windowsill. They were beautiful in the sun.

My favorite pastime when I was between eight and ten was making mud cakes. My sisters and I would find very large stones.Then we made a big pan of mud which we frosted the stones with. As soon as our “cakes” were frosted we decorated them with bits of leaves, grass, twigs, and flowers. Then we set them in the sun to dry. We got pretty creative. We played that game over and over all summer long.

At my grandma’s house, in the back, was an old set of shelves. We played store out there every time we visited in the summer. We would name the store and make a sign. We made play money and took turns being the shopkeeper. We picked weeds and flowers, priced them and then went shopping.

Queen Ann’s lace was cauliflower, yellow flowers were butter and we collected seeds and berries from plants, like her honeysuckle bush. We just picked whatever was available. It was really fun.

In school during 4th through 7th grade, there were many tall trees in the schoolyard. That translated into tons of leaves in the fall. During lunch hour we would use the leaves to design floor plans for a house. We would shape the leaves into rows along the ground to designate the living room, kitchen, bedroom etc. By the time school was over the “house plans” would be blown away but we didn’t care because we knew we would just create them again the next day.

I had a friend who had small children. Her eight-year-old son loved to dig in our large sandbox. So one day I took some broken jewelry and assorted beads and buried them in the sand. You should have seen the delight as the children unearthed the treasure. Most of the children only dug for treasure occasionally after that first time but the eight-year-old dug every time he came until he was well over ten. Even after all that time, he would occasionally find a bead or two.

When I was a girl I enjoyed taking junk and creating something. I have a drawer that I collect junk in – toilet paper tubes, cardboard corners off the frames I bought, old keys, pieces of plastic, – you know junk. Today Ben and Mary made leprechaun traps using the junk from the drawer. They had a wonderful two hours of creating. No technology, just themselves, their imagination and fun.

Put on your thinking cap and remember what you and your friends did when you were five, seven, eight, and ten. Ask your parents and grandparents what they liked to do. What was it you or they liked about that activity? What materials were needed and did you put those materials together your self or did you need adult help. Then help your children recreate the experience.

Don’t do for them what they can do for themselves. Tell them your stories and how much fun you had and get them excited about having the same type of experience. Then stay present. Let them use the materials freely. Help when asked. Oh and ah. You’ll all have a great time.


I’d love to hear what you and your friends did for fun on long summer days. Why not share?

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2 Responses to “Reinstating Play for Healthy Kids”

  1. I love this article and wholeheartedly agree! There is so much value to be found in lessons learned with mud between your toes! Thanks!

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