A tree-top view of life: Why traditional forms of play are better


By Heather Woods

As a young kid growing up in the suburbs, I remember the jealousy I felt over my neighbours fancy (well it was fancy in the eyes of a little kid) cubby house.  It clung onto the cliff edge in their backyard. It had just enough space for ‘club meetings’ and a door that closed – keeping out the eyes of prying parents. We’d spend hours playing in there and roaming the bush area beyond, always on the hunt for the next adventure – it was the making of an awesome childhood.

I want to encourage my own girls to expand their minds, really use their imagination. I’d rather them be playing games outdoors, learning to cook, exploring their home and surroundings. And though everything is great in moderation, I’d rather them not playing video games or spending hours watching tv when they could be out riding bikes or playing sports – it’s these activities where they’ll learn about personal safety and team work.

We have a Chinese Elm tree in our yard, perfect for building a tree house around. I can see the platform it will be built on, wrapped around the solid trunk and hopefully including a secret compartment for them to store treasures. A rope with a tyre-swing hanging below to bring on those childlike screams of delight and a ladder for reaching back up to the safety of their hideaway. What does a kid learn from a tree house you might ask? They, albeit subtly, learn architecture and design in the build process. Physics – how hard do they have to push for the swing to go higher? Business management and who they invite in. Ok, maybe that one’s a stretch.

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From the treetops they will learn science as the leaves change and fall with the seasons. They will be in awe of the wildlife whose home they are a part of; beautiful bird calls, the wind  rushing up the valley and the smell of summer – bushfire smoke, what does it mean and what do they have to do?

Their view back to the ground will be over our previous attempt at a vegetable garden. It has now been redeemed by conversion to a fairy garden. Three pewter fairies (who can only move at night while little children sleep), guard the tadpoles who’ve made their home in the pond.

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The winding garden path passes the strawberry patch that needs watering every day. This is an adventure in itself as it means walking ‘all the way’ to the tap to start the hose. Once the strawberries have their share, we water the rest of the garden and learn the importance of moderation and hydration. Then with a little chalk, rocks are given faces to create instant playmates. And really, what’s more fun that feeding your new friends with recently made sand and mud pies – courtesy of the garden, sandpit and some recent rain?

Imagination is a powerful tool that will only benefit them as they grow into young adults. Education in this more traditional manner is more relaxed, natural. They will hopefully create a personal and organic learning curve along with developing a strong interest in the world they live in. Curiosity will create a desire to see and do more. That can’t be a bad thing, right?

Likewise with other imagination-based games. Hide and Seek for example. There’s nothing more fun than running around your home hiding from a toddler who’s on the hunt for mummy. And there’s nothing funnier than watching Grandma do it too! It can go on for as long as you have their attention, so not only are you tiring them out (crucial for busy mums and helpful to those with a daily step goal!) but it’s teaching them useful life skills. Critical thinking, spatial awareness, counting, geography, the ability to think in a practical manner – and those are just a few!

Rainy days can pose problems as cabin fever sets in pretty quick. To get through the anticipated meltdowns, it’s best to be prepared with activities to make it through the day. If your kids are old enough, board games can be both educational and a bonding experience between siblings. There is the risk that the promised bonding will backfire and you’ll become mediator of a war (still a lesson for all parties involved), but if you can control the calm it can be a wonderful experience. Memories and learning are generated from moments like who won the most (and how), who got the highest score and who stole from the bank!

Life skills, like the importance of looking for cars before crossing the road – however clear it may seem. Understanding the difference between different sized puzzle pieces and why only certain pieces connect. Learning processes for cooking different foods. Learning respect for others when playing in a group – whatever their age and however they’ve been treating you.

Traditional methods of play also see kids physically talking to people; you, their siblings, their friends, their teachers – and in an age of heightened bullying, this one is important. They won’t be staring at a screen the whole time or becoming obsessed with fads that do nothing for their growth as individuals. Using traditional play will prime them to be decent people and understand who they are as individuals, plus there’s the added health benefit of these type of activities.

Kids are learning every second of the day. Their environment and how they learn is so important when guiding your kids. Only they can choose the final path, but by educating them we can open just a few more doors to make their choices easier.

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