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Let Them Play

March 2007

 

I was sitting in traffic a few days ago when my eyes wandered to the car beside me.  In the front seat was a boy of about 12.  Beside him was the driver whose too-frequent glances at his young passenger caught my attention.  The driver’s constantly swiveling head didn’t seem to affect the boy. He stared straight ahead, unmoving.  He never once reacted to his companion who kept turning to look at him.  Their non-interaction intrigued me and I found myself observing them.  It was then I saw the earphones in the boy’s ears.  He was plugged.  No wonder.  He sat rather rigidly in the front seat, clearly in his own little world.  I thought him a bit young to be in earphone land.  He didn’t even notice that his driver kept looking at him.  If someone were turning that often to look my way, I’d at least glare at him.  But this boy was not even aware of the world around him.  He was completely expressionless.

 

Last December I saw a much younger boy sitting outside the coffee shop his mother was having lunch in.  The boy was with a yaya, who looked like she might faint with boredom, because her ward was totally immersed in a handheld computer device.  He also had earphones on, connected to what looked like his mother’s iPod.  The boy was overweight and sluggish in his movements.  When he spoke, he sounded a bit like a cartoon character.  He looked like a child, but something about him was no longer child-like.  It would have been better to give him some paper and crayons.  He could have been drawing and creating something out of himself.  Instead, he was plugged into two devices that drew him into a world of technology—not a world of warmth and human interaction. 

 

The modern world is taking away healthy play and creativity from our children.  It breaks my heart to see kids who are unable to play, especially with other children.  I’ve seen some kids who keep talking and cannot jump into physical play with others.  They are so much in their heads they no longer know how to run and experience the world around them.  Kids today should be moving and exploring.  Movement is connected to our speech and sense of balance.  When kids are put in front of devices that limit their movement, their development suffers on many levels.   Even their emotional life is affected.  A wise mother told me before that she’d rather her child suffer scratches and bruises than be emotionally stunted because she prevented him from moving, exploring and experiencing his body in relation to the world.  Our experiences of the world naturally affect our inner development.  If we keep exposing our children to machines, what kind of inner life are we giving them? There are parents in my children’s Steiner/Waldorf school who let their children watch television and play computer games, but many of us have chosen the road less traveled in the interest of keeping our children in the world of play for as long as we can.  My children seem to have benefited from it; they are calm and able to play for hours.  Each game opens the door to a new one.  Everyday a piece of string finds new expression in their world.  They are very active and agile and are outdoors a lot, instead of in front of any kind of screen doing nothing. 

 

Friends and strangers have asked if I’m not a little bit worried that my boys are learning academics much later than kids in mainstream schools.  Not at all.  My older boy only started to read last year, in Class 2, but now I’m practically bankrupt from buying him books.  I recently told him it is time to go back and read his other books again—as much to conserve as to make him live in the images longer and not be drawn into the world of more, more, more as fast as possible.  But there is no greater joy for me than to see him grab his book at the end of a school day and hear him giggling to himself as he reads.  I love that he is passionate about books, plays and draws well, and enjoys nature.  Both my boys bike with skill, confidence, joy and a sound sense of caution.  They are also water creatures and can spend hours on the beach discovering sea life.  I never have to worry about entertaining them or bringing along bags full of toys wherever we go.  They are always happy where they are.

 

It is true that when they are physically and emotionally ready for academics, they learn quickly and with much enthusiasm.   I saw this readiness in my son when his drawings took on a different form and theme, when he started asking me to teach him to “draw letters”, and he started copying numbers.  When he finally started to read, he was unstoppable.  I’ve seen kids his age who have no interest in reading because their immersion in technology has made everything else too slow and uninteresting for them.  No, I don’t see my children as being delayed at all.  I see them developing at just the right pace for healthy children their age.

 

My children don’t have computer games or cell phones.  They do not have iPods and they know they cannot borrow mine.  They do not watch television yet, though my older one has seen two movies: The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins.  We are still carefully choosing his third film.  Yes, there are days when I wish I could just put them in front of the tube so I can have my sanity back, but that’s the easy way out.  When I see how they become ready to write, then read, and see their enthusiasm for their lessons, I know in my heart I have chosen their school well.  When I see how my little one can spend hours in his play area, creating stories with dolls, pieces of wood, cloth, baskets, stones, shells and whatever other things he puts on his story table, I know that keeping them away from technology has been a wonderful thing.

 

I can’t say enough that I have Steiner/Waldorf education to thank for showing me the way.  Through this child-centered education, I have been able to see my boys for who they are and meet them where they need me in their development. I am not a perfect mother and never will be, but Steiner education continues to teach me to be a more conscious parent.  No matter what mistakes I am bound to still make with my children, I know I have at least given them a foundation that will strengthen their inner life and prepare them to be balanced, loving, healthy and responsible human beings.   It is a gift I never hesitate to share.  

6 Comments

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  1. j / Dec 31 2011 5:27 am

    wow video games are part of the world. if you keep your children from these experiences it will affect them in later life let them have some video game and tv experience or it could seriously stunt there emotional and social growth more then anything

    • panjeetapales / Jan 11 2012 8:37 am

      Hi. I haven’t read any articles or studies that show any relationship between video games and emotional/social growth, but both my boys are emotionally well and healthy. Again, it’s all about giving them things at the right age and time. My 14-year-old already has video games and I can tell you that he’s not well when he’s had too much. My 10-year-old is too young for them but he has a very active play life and he’s socially and emotionally healthy.

  2. Gigi Smyth / Oct 27 2012 4:27 pm

    i’m really struggling as a new Steiner parent. My child is in a Steiner class, but many of her classmates play with electronic gadgets at home. Got no idea how to handle this, when playdates come up. When she will be exposed to gadgets in other people’s homes, that i do not expose her to,, in our home. Got no idea where to ask about this dilemna. I don’t buy her franchised stuff that the other kids have – which is a huge bone of contention. I thought by sending her to a Steiner stream, i wouldn’t come up against this disparity.

    Like you, i am ok with delaying the academics, after nearly one year of Steiner schooling, i can see so many benefits in her learning, esp all the memory work.

    • panjeetapales / Nov 21 2012 7:18 pm

      Hi Gigi,

      Sorry for the delayed response. I suggest you host the playdates for your child as that’s the only way you are sure it won’t be a gadget fest. As you already know, kids will play with enthusiasm when gadgets are not an option. You can control what happens in your home but not outside. You didn’t say how old your child was, so it’s hard to say more, but if she’s very little then it’s even more important to keep her away if you can.

      I hope this helps.

  3. mommy jac / Jan 28 2013 3:52 pm

    I commend you Pangie for your blog. You are right! The only reason why waldorf is found strange is because we go back to how were were brought up. When i was growing up we were not allowed tv during school week. It was like a reward during the weekends. and my dad would even check the tv screen. WE were allowed to play outside until there is no light. Dirt and all were allowed. WE were encouraged to read books and have play houses in our closets. Play dates with neighbors. Summer time was always workshop time courtesy of my lola. I also remember my childhood with my cousins where we don’t sit around watching tv but rather play, put together a play for our grannies to watch or tumble around in the garden! I hear so much people complaining how kids now a days have change and they blame these children without realizing that they were the cause of it. Putting them in fornt of the tube, and not encouraging play. Recently i went on an out of the country trip with me family. They constantly were upset with my son who was a toddler for not being able to sit still. They totally forgot that we have been sitting down for half the day from the airport in manila to the plane ride to the bus ride and then the lunch time. They didn’t even allow him to walk from the hotel to the resto as they were hurrying. Hence my toddler was trying his best to keep still. A job he did well but they didn’t see that after he would keep on standing up. I was so upset with them. I was about to explain but all they told me was I was making excuses for him and how i can’t control my son. I was so upset it ruined the whole trip for me. (sorry for venting out at you) after that day i was walking around on eggshells around them insisting my son keeps still or doing our own thing so that we were not in their watchful eye. I want to scream to them and say LET HIM PLAY! i don’t understand when people forget that toddlers are toddlers and they need to play and they can never ever sit as long as we sluggish adults can. I am so sad after that trip bec. my husband and I have vowed to continue my son’s waldorf education. And now I see that the challenge will come from my family influence and how I need to be a tougher person to give this type of up bringing to my son! I love reading your blog which I only discovered today courtesy of my husband.

  4. Rhea / May 26 2014 10:15 am

    Hello, Panjee!

    Sharing this on Facebook 🙂
    Warm regards!

    Rhea Bailey

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