Life Lessons We Learned From The Playground
The last couple of months have been tough. The first time I saw my three year old’s sad little face when he realized we couldn’t stop to play at the neighbourhood playground was heartbreaking. I’d like to say that I had all the right words to explain why the playground is closed and how we’re all going to come out of this stronger. Instead, I headed on over to Costco and bought the biggest play structure I could find to put a smile back on that face (#quarantineimpulsebuys, amirite?!).
Growing up in a generation without iPads, in a world where we had to ride our bike to a friends house and physically knock on their door to ask them to come out to play, encouraged so many life skills that I want to encourage in my kids too. So many life lessons were learned out on those playgrounds, and I’m counting down the days until my kids can get back out there.
I don’t think anyone can say for certain when that’s going to be, but, until then, how can we encourage our kids to build those life lessons that we learned from the playground?
How to Lose
The year is 1998. We’ve arrived at the playground for our daily game of Capture the Flag, Don’t Touch The Lava and/or Red Rover. We invented new rules on the fly, consoled our friends that were chosen last and diligently kept score by etching numbers into the asphalt with the side of a rock. Life was good.
Today’s society is a little different. Being politically correct is really important. Losing isn’t a learned skill anymore. Inclusivity is the dominant power. While inclusivity is a great, powerful lesson, kids still need to learn how to lose! While some parents may not agree with this, I really think teaching kids how to perform competitively is important. I may go easier on my kids during a game of catch (because of the whole lack of hand eye coordination thing or whatever) but, more often then not, it’s really hard for me to let them win. I encourage you to try it some time. However, I support your decision either way (because of the whole “being politically correct thing or whatever”😉).
I vividly remember those summer nights. 10 years old. Nervously pedalling my bike home from the park at the brink of sunset so that I don’t miss my curfew. As a 10 year old, this was virtually my only responsibility: to be home before dark. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I don’t think I missed a single curfew (my parents may attest to that, but I’m sticking to my story). What did I learn from this? The more responsibility you give a kid, the more responsibility they can handle. Recently, I’ve been allowing my Preschooler and Toddler to play in the backyard independently (secretly helicopter parenting from afar, because that’s kind of my jam). I watch my Preschooler take my Toddlers hand, teach her new things and, ever so lovingly, remind her that “he’s the older brother so he’s in charge of her right now”. She toddles alongside, just happy that he’s paying attention to her. I like that by providing him with a little bit of responsibility, like “make sure you’re being a good big brother and watch your little sister”, I’m able to encourage him to learn how to be responsible and independent.
I spent most of my afternoons on the playground, developing new plans to swing so high that I’d flip right over the support bars. I know now that physics simply won’t allow it, but at the time, this was genuinely one of my biggest goals in life. I experimented yesterday with my toddler to see how well she could problem solve. “You want the cookie?” I said, as she eagerly nodded. “You get it, you eat it”, I teased, as I placed the cookie on the second shelf of our pantry. She confidently marched to the living room, dragged over the decorative pouf beside the couch, climbed on up and grabbed her cookie. Toddler: 1, Mom: 0.
Can you think of all the crazy games you used to come up with on the playground when you were young? Today’s trend is, of course, the game ‘Grounders’, where one person is "it", the others are to hide around the playground while the "it" person, behind closed eyes, tries to find the others and make them “it” (or something like that). As a parent to younger children who could easily be knocked off these structures, you can typically find me in the background of this game, waving my fist yelling, “slow down, ya little hooligans!” That being said, I do actually fully support kids of all ages playing at parks. Open ended playground equipment encourages kids to be creative and free, and that’s super important. My preschooler spent 45 minutes the other day figuring out 17 different ways he could use a swing (as my toddler ate sand… All the sand). To each their own, they say.
You got this, Mama.
Published in Flourish Magazine.