Monday, July 23, 2012

Modeling Play

There is a movement reasserting the developmental value of play for children.  Studies are showing that pushing young children academically at a young age is actually backfiring.  Jeff Everage presents the case for play based on our indigenous roots, and he brings it back to us, the parents, who may be modeling something other than play for our children.  Many thanks to Parkland Life Magazine for permission to reprint this article.
by Jeff Everage

Kids emulate their parents – both the things we’re proud of and those that make us blush. It’s cute when a toddler pretends to talk into a calculator like we talk into our cell phones. It’s frustrating when our 12-year-old says, “One more video game, then I’ll go outside to play,” causing you to shout that kids are supposed to want to play outside!
Why do we believe kids should play a certain way? What type of play are we teaching them to enjoy?

These days, adult “play” centers around static activities - watching the game last Sunday with your buddies, watching an interesting TV show, going to the gym, or sitting in the bleachers watching your kids play a game of soccer. If these are the types of activities we associate with fun and entertainment, then can we fault our kids too much if their idea of fun is watching cartoons all day!

I recently attended a talk by Jon Young about his trip to Botswana to learn the nature mentoring techniques of the Bushman, an ancient hunter-gatherer culture. Jon has dedicated his life to connecting children and families to their natural environment and has written the definitive book on the subject, Coyote's Guide to Connecting with Nature. Jon observed the village women playing with homemade dolls and toy huts, playing out the scenes of a typical day, much like little girls might pretend to have tea or cook. The village girls watched, and when the women finished, the girls rushed in and picked up the toys to play their own version of the same. Curious, Jon watched the village men at play. They played a game with a ball similar to sports western men play. After they were done, the village boys rushed in and played.

Humans are adapted through “mirror neurons” that have us experience what we see so that we can cope with our changing environment by seeing others and copying them. Entertainment evolved from this adaptation and probably started as storytelling and sports to pass on important information and capabilities. I realized our culture may be confusing, or even replacing, play for entertainment.

With this distinguished, I found that entertainment was everywhere and play was nearly nonexistent in the adult’s world. Adults are passing time with TVs, computers, smart phones, and similar electronic devices, and children are mirroring that. The results of this are predictable. ADHD, obesity, depression, and toxic stress are directly linked to trading less outdoor play for more indoor electronic entertainment.

What does a child learn by watching adults engrossed in passive forms of entertainment? Focus is on the entertainers: reporters, sports players, actors, contestants. The parent is mere spectator, not active participant. We should ask ourselves, who is modeling what? Will we allow a future where our children sit and watch others play and have fun?

So what can we do as parents? We could join an adult sports league, hike more with our children, maintain a home garden, and do outdoor community service projects together. We can organize more outdoor potlucks with other families. Bring the Frisbee, soccer ball or football and, like the Bushman, leave the children on the sidelines while the adults play for a while.

Don’t worry about the kids; they still know what to do.

Navy SEAL training, entrepreneurial ventures, and corporate business leadership did not fully prepare Jeff Everage for his life's biggest challenge - fatherhood. Inspired by his two sons, he became a certified Redirecting Children’s Behavior and Positive Discipline parent educator, and co-founded, a website that provides parents engaging online education based on mutual respect and community support.  A sought after keynote speaker, writer, and trainer, Jeff presents and writes about parenting fundamentals backed by new brain science, evolutionary development, cultural history, and common sense.  Jeff will be speaking at It Takes a Village Parenting Conference in Miramar, Florida, on October 20, 2012.  For more, see