My husband and I became grandparents just over a year ago. While I thoroughly adored being a mom, there is nothing quite like a grandchild. All the fun with none of the stress!
Watching my grandson play – loads of fun! He is a busy, busy boy! One of his favorite things to do right now is to fill up a container, empty the container, and fill it up again. This game could go on for quite some time! He might take a break to stack the blocks he is taking in and out of a container or suddenly add a book; he is focused and relaxed at the same time. I’d say it qualifies as “flow”!
The fill and un-fill game not only is developing his fine motor skills, but it is teaching him how to explore his world. That’s what play is all about!
What is play? It is unencumbered time when you can do things just for the sake of doing them – because you want to, because you can.
According to Psychologist Dr. Stuart Brown play is essential for brain development. It makes you smarter! It lights up your brain, increases your memory, and encourages problem solving. It also increases your zest for life – play contributes tremendously to happiness! The opposite of play is not work but depression.
There are more than 120 forms of play including imaginative, games, body, rough and tumble, object, ritual, spectator, solo, or collective play.
When was the last time you played? As an adult, too often you forget to play. You think it is just for kids – their way of preparing for the future. Even more disheartening, you can create an atmosphere where children are unable to engage in play. Just type in “over-scheduled children” into your search engine and you will be flooded with results! Today children are worn out and enjoy little down time leaving them grumpy, moody, and anxious.
How can you combat this when children are at church?
1. Be an adult that plays
As leaders, whatever you do trickles down. If you aren’t in the habit of taking time to play, it is unlikely that you will bring a playful presence to your interaction with the kids. Find ways to incorporate play into your meetings, how you communicate – how you spend your leisure time. Encourage it!
2. Make time for play in the classroom
It can be tempting to pack your classroom time with information. After all, the time you have to reach kids is limited, however, rushing from one activity to another does not provide children the opportunity to settle in and engage in a meaningful way. If they are lacking this in their lives, wouldn’t it be nice if church was the one place they could experience it?
That’s one reason why it is important to spend a significant time in meaningful centers – Learning Activities. Children need time where they can move from one activity to another at their own pace. While it might feel passive, it will provide opportunities to have powerful conversations with the children, build trust, and allow them to engage in activities that are meaningful to them. Play, then, sets the stage for them to learn about God and His love.
3. Create a classroom space conducive to play
Play is active. It is an outflow of curiosity. It is open ended. To encourage children to play you need a space where kids can touch, explore, and interact in a hands on way. Your space should not only inspire play, also provide enough room to play. Small cramped spaces are not conducive to play.
How can you infuse more play into your own life, your ministry, and the classroom?