I have fond memories of my days as a carefree kid. I recall playing tag with neighborhood friends, riding bikes up and down the sidewalks, and evenings of hide-and-seek, where I would always roll under the big pine tree that separated our house from our neighbor, Mrs. Eastman. Eventually, my brother and our friends caught on to my prime location and it no longer secured my champion position, but I still remember it fondly.
Before I became a parent, I naively assumed my children would spend their days much as I did as a child. However, I didn't count on the endless stream of entertainment that would come to be the 'norm' in their lives. From infanthood, they had toys that sang, lit up, and propelled themselves across the floor. As they got older, technology wrestled for their attention in different ways and before I realized what happened, they preferred to watch other kids play with toys on YouTube in place of playing with the toy themselves!
As parents with the best intentions, we don't plan for our kids to be lured into constant stimulation but it happens all the same because everything is created to not only grab their attention but to keep them coming back for more.
Along with the toy technology market that thrives on objects that do most of the 'work' for our children, we add to this a generalized societal view that more is more. The thing is, we want our kids to be well-rounded, well-socialized, academically successful, and perhaps athletically or musically inclined. We start this trajectory earlier and earlier. Hello, baby music classes. Whether we've been told that our children need these things to be successful or because we want what we deem best for them, we are filling schedules and expectations at a rate that is faster and fuller than our children can maintain, and we do it out of love and many times pressure to be a 'good parent.’
When we pair an overstocked playroom with highly stimulating toys alongside the over-scheduled child (and family), we are setting ourselves up for disaster. Children crave the same thing that many of us do.
Simplicity. Downtime. Quiet.
But, unlike us, they don't know how to ask for it and so we see outbursts, struggles with behavior, and inattention.
How often do we allow our kids to be bored? Boredom is an underrated gift that gives our littles a space to imagine, create and dream. When we fill each moment of their day with toys that require no imagination or activities that leave no white space, we rob them of the ability to find the beautiful unknown. How often, when left to their own devices will our kids become a hero or heroine in a fairytale story, or morph into their favorite animal and create a nest of couch pillows to settle into? How easily will they transform an old cardboard box into a ship or a racecar if they aren't already handed one that's been created for them? Imagination is the blessing that has led all great innovators of our world to create extraordinary things.
As our children get older, insisting on unscheduled hours allows them to pursue passions! In our home, those hours have yielded a jewelry entrepreneur, a baker, an artist, filmmaker, and a budding piano enthusiast! And my husband and I get to watch as the magic unfolds.
Unfortunately, if we stock our home with all the latest and greatest options, we will raise children whose attention is often flitting from one thing to the next. There's proof on the living room floor! That pile of toys that were pulled out and left behind after each only receiving a moment's attention is the evidence of distraction. When our kids have too many options, nothing is endearing, and everything is expendable. We don't challenge their imaginations; we don't require longer focus and we don't allow their cognitive muscles to flex.
In our home, we removed about 60% of the toys that were once scattered throughout our playroom. What remained were items that required them to use imagination to play. Animal figurines, dolls, LEGOs, board games and cars that need to be moved by hand. Our older girls have art supplies and crafts that bring out their creativity. And while yes, we still have technology in our home, we limit their use not as a punishment but as a gift. A gift of remembering that their imagination, sibling friendships, and passions are what truly bring forth joy in their lives. We have seen the fruits of this choice and we know that for us, we wouldn't want it any other way.
Perhaps you too are feeling like you want to simplify your home, schedule, or tech time but you aren't sure where to start.
Here are a few tips to get starts:
- Declutter. If you have younger children take the task upon yourself. Clear out items they are often cast aside, left on a shelf, or ones that do all the work for your kiddo. Leave behind items that require them to use imagination, problem-solving, and motor skills. If you have older children, work together by sorting through their items and asking them to keep only what they enjoy.
- Free your schedule. Take a look at your commitments. Are they overwhelming your family or something you enjoy? Is there something that can be set aside for now? Consider the one-activity rule and only commit to one external commitment a season.
- Limit tech time or create boundaries. In our home we're working toward kids only getting tech time after they complete their schoolwork, read for a set amount of time, and get outdoors.
- Have supplies on hand to fuel imagination. Our home always has glue, markers, cardboard, string, paints, and other crafting paraphernalia on hand so when the mood strikes a craft is just one messy kitchen table away.
- Embrace the mess, noise, questions... whatever! When our kids became homeschoolers a year ago, we decided that we wanted a lot of downtime in their days for them to pursue what interested them. Sometimes this means messy kitchens from cakes being baked, paint on the floor from a masterpiece in the works, or shrieks of feigned terror as they play "monster in the dark" (their favorite hide and seek style game).
You know your children better than anyone else. Can you see when their minds are turning or when they are on the edge of a meltdown before it even happens? Sometimes our own lives are so busy with commitments and 'stuff' that we need to clean up, put away, or make happen that we miss how much our kids are needing quiet, calm, and simple. We overlook the choice of a quiet board game or a hand of Go-Fish or Crazy 8's in place of a noisy cartoon or wailing siren toy. But, if we can create some simplicity and white space in our own lives and our homes, we'll see just how quickly it spreads to our children's demeanors and behaviors.
And a calm, joyful home is a gift worth fighting for.
I received a game in exchange for this blog post. All opinions expressed belong to me.
Kelly is a simplicity-loving wife of 13 years and mom of 3 kiddos and a plethora of pets. She is a blogger, speaker, and professional organizer. Her goal is to empower women to break free of the clutter and chaos and be free to live the life they were called to love. Visit her website, Your Reclaimed Life, for a free download of the 5 steps to getting decluttered. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest.
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