Friday April 19th. Lockdown. Don’t go outside. Don’t go to school. Don’t go to work. My 4 year old: “why can’t we go outside mommy?” My reply: “There’s a bad man out there”. I live in Boston.
A lockdown day is much like a blizzard day if you’re a mother of three small children: ARRRRRGH! Every mother I know described the extreme efforts required to keep pre-schoolers occupied for an entire 12 hour period in one place. My kids played with playdough twice. Painted twice. Candyland ditto. Uno also. Baking, check. And yes, I’ll admit, a little screen time with my dear friend Curious George. My oldest child has recently learned what “bored” means.
The thing is, “bored” is good. Or it can be. An article by David Dobbs in the science section of the New York Times today described a series of experiments on the way children think and play. Up until about age 4 or 5 children don’t act on prior biases or assumptions of how things are supposed to work. Unsupervised, unscripted play lets children experiment, trying things in unconventional ways that adults would never think of. We parents don’t like to be bored and so we assume that our children should be spared boredom at all costs. So we frantically invent crafts and buy games and toys and engage in play with our children in an attempt to stave off this human condition.
Mr. Dobbs says that studies suggest that free play is good for all sorts of reasons, all of which are catnip to parents: resilience, creativity, flexibility, social understanding, emotional and cognitive control, resistance to stress and anxiety. Jeeze, who wouldn’t want all those things for their kids? I can’t cite you these studies, but if the NYT says it it must be true…
Instead of “What should we do today?” once in a while I might say to my kids “Go play”. They’ll hate it for awhile. I am the source of all things amusing and food-related after all. But they’ll gain awesome skills.