When my three children were little, summer was always a time to take advantage of looser schedules and to plan special outings and activities. Once they entered grade school, the freedom and fluidity of summer days became even more precious. Though we weren’t in a position to take expensive vacations, we’d go to shows, zoos, the beach, water parks, and sometimes travel across the country to visit grandparents and cousins.
But for me (and I believe my family would agree), many of our most enjoyable and memorable experiences were the simplest ones. They involved just being together and took place closer to home. In fact, mostly at home. I shared some of our favorite, more structured play activities in my post Games My Kids Beg to Play, and I described the source for much of our spontaneous play magic in Back to the Sandbox.
If I hadn’t had the good fortune to become acquainted with child specialist Magda Gerber and her do less, enjoy more approach, I doubt very much that I would have had the perspective to appreciate simple, organic, child-led play so completely. I would have undervalued it, perhaps even considering it a fallback, feeling guilty that I wasn’t making the effort to provide my children with something more entertaining and special. I would definitely not have known how to foster organic play in infants and why self-directed play is so crucial to the development of foundational learning skills, creativity, self-confidence, and a strong sense of self. Thanks to Magda, I was able to delight in and savor experiences like the one Emily shares:
Hi Janet! Thank you for all of the wonderful guidance you share. I am trying hard to integrate the RIE philosophies into my everyday life as a mom of “2 under 2.” However, in true mothering form, I generally second guess if I am doing it “right.” This evening I feel like I got it. After a long day for all of us, instead of rushing the kids up to a bath and bedtime (so I could go to bed early too), we went to the screened porch. I let my 6-week- old lay next me on the sofa as I watched my 20-month-old spend more than 30 minutes playing with a collection of tree nuts she had gathered from our front yard earlier in the day. She moved them one at a time from various containers and surfaces. I was so tempted to guide her in counting them (I’m a math teacher), but I decided instead to enjoy witnessing the magic of her concentration and creativity. Thank you!
Eleanor (my daughter) deserves all the credit for inspiring me to follow the RIE approach…her determination to be independent and my own (very natural) insecurities as a parent are what lead me to order Magda’s book. After reading that and following your page, I have continued to be inspired by my own daughter on a daily basis. Again, thank you.
The most blissful summer play activities are:
- Child initiated, invented, and directed
- Child-paced (no rush, no muss, no fuss)
- Unscripted, organic, open ended (they have a life of their own)
- Encouraged by our trust in our children to explore, practice, and learn what is meaningful to them in that moment (which is something only they can gauge)
- Creative, educational, therapeutic, and involve nature if possible
- Key for fostering the development of focus and attention span
- Powerful opportunities to nurture our parent-child connection by providing our children an affirming message: What you choose to do is not only enough, it’s cool and interesting to me.
- As deeply relaxing and fulfilling for parents as they are for kids
- Also enjoyable from a distance while parents focus comfortably on chores or take guilt-free breaks.
I just wanted to say thank you for introducing me to RIE and respectful parenting. I always felt like it was my job to entertain and play with my boy all the time. As I’ve gradually given them more spaces, their ability to play independently has blossomed! Here are my 4 and 2-year-old playing by themselves for over an hour this morning while I did laundry. What a relief! Thank you!
Thanks so much to Emily and Megan for allowing me to share your stories and photos!
I share more about fostering blissful play experiences in my book: Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting.