My son was engrossed in doing math. Now, this wasn’t a total shock to me to observe – while I’m certainly no Pythagoras, I enjoy some number work myself – but what I was watching did remind me of a simple truth. You see, my son wasn’t fully engaged with just a sheet of paper and his mental calculations; he was playing a math game. And the simple truth that struck me was the significant capacity that kids have to learn and grow through play.
Educators increasingly understand the power of gamification and play, evidenced by the explosion of learning games. “The key to the gamification of education is not to privilege one over the other but to find the sweet spot between pedagogy and engagement where learning intersects with fun,” writes edtech writer Barbara Kurshan in Forbes.
But I’m quite sure this fact doesn’t mean that all play must be transformed in the life of your child so that the only play that occurs has a direct correlation to academic advancement and growth. A move in that direction would quickly extinguish the natural joy and fun to be had in play.
Sometimes a good scrap with the kids needs to break out. And other times you need to roll up the sleeves for a princess experience. In both situations – and countless others – I’ve been reminded of the fact that play is important in so many different ways. Such as understanding rules and boundaries when wrestling…and using one’s imagination when playing princess.
Most of the time the experience of these moments is the lesson itself and no explanation is needed. Sure, there are moments in the midst of play where you should pause, reflect, and observe. To see that teachable moment in the midst of what you’re doing and engage with it. I confess, though, that sometimes I can get caught up in trying to find that perfect teachable moment. To analyze a situation, connect it with a life lesson, then translate that instruction down to a five-year-old’s comprehension. I know some dads who are brilliant at that, but as much as I’d like to count myself among them, that’s doesn’t often describe me. Most of the time, however, play is full of moments where simply your presence, full engagement, and love are exactly the lessons that you don’t need words to communicate.
Through play, I can demonstrate the value I find in those young lives in my home. I can encourage and celebrate. Comfort and console. Connect and laugh. It’s not flashy or fancy, but I’m convinced it’s powerful and effective.
I need this reminder about play because I’m tempted to downplay it. Or to relegate myself to a position of observation rather than playful engagement. Or even to think that specifically educational play is the best kind. But my kids learn so much through play, and so I want to be right in the mix with them on it.
This is yet another reminder that being present is more than simply being there. It’s a remind that play can be a means of encouraging our kids to develop all important grit. And if you’re looking for things to do with your kids, here are some ideas.