Free play

1. Why I Love Why Melissa Wiley’s beautiful essay on one of the more trying periods of motherhood: the “why?” phase.

At its heart, that’s where the incessant why comes from: a sense of wonder, a sense that the world is a mysterious place but—and this is huge—where there are questions, there are answers. So I respectfully disagree with the notion that some questions—sincere ones, I mean, the kind a child asks—are stupid. The question itself is a sign of that spark that makes us human, our insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding. We don’t take the world for granted. We want to know what makes it tick, what makes the sky blue, what makes freckles and spaghetti and smoke. As we grow, we learn to add more words to the question—but with luck we never lose that sense of the magic of it all, the endless scope for possibility. My kids’ whys have kept me asking questions; they’ve shown me a thousand different ways of looking at things so seemingly ordinary I might have forgotten to notice. Somewhere along the line, I came to realize that their whys weren’t just helping them make sense of an astonishing world; they were making it continually astonishing for me too.

Do click through and read the two essays about Why I Hate Why that sparked hers. They are really interesting and thoughtful too. They gave me some things to think about in terms of how I answer questions. I like the idea of asking clarifying questions and trying to get the child to ask more interesting questions.

2. The Benefits of Ignoring Children (Sometimes)

Children need free play.

Children need to recognize that other people have needs (even their parents) that sometimes supersede their own.

Children need the blessing of downtime.

Children need the gift of not being the most important thing in the universe every second of every day. 

Children THRIVE when their activities are not always controlled, overseen, and regulated by large and powerful adults.

Children learn important lessons about life and interaction when drama, bickering, discord, and problems are allowed to happen.  They learn to find their own solutions without an authority stepping in.

The mind of a child will develop in a more normal and useful way if we don’t hand them a video game or a movie every time they start to get noisy, annoy us, or make a mess.

LET THEM HAVE TIME TO THEMSELVES- time that is not overseen, interrupted, controlled, regulated, or organized or watched.  We will see happier, healthier children who are capable of solving their own problems and manipulating their own world rather than expecting somebody else to manipulate it for them.  We will see children who recognize the needs of others sometimes trump their own desires.  We will see better and more giving children who just happen to be HAPPIER.

Charlotte Mason calls it “masterly inactivity.” This introvert mother calls it “saving my sanity.” As far as I can see it’s a win-win. They get all the freedom they need to get bored and creative and I get the freedom I need to recharge my batteries.


3. Again from Melissa Wiley: Old man, how is it that you hear these things?

“See,” she said solemnly, all business, “I was noticing our mornings have been grumpy this week. People have seemed…tense. Now: listen. What do you hear?”

I’m breathless. She has this preternaturally serene expression on her usually animated little face: positively Charles Wallace.

“Birdsong,” I venture. Fluty house sparrows, a persistent scrub jay, the operatic mockingbird.

“Right,” she nods. “The music of nature.”

I’m hiding a smile. She’s so very serious. Any minute now she’ll call me Grasshopper.

“Now breathe deep,” instructs this tiny guru. “What do you smell?”

It’s a rare overcast day. You can hear the grass singing to the clouds, yearning for rain.

I’m feeling very humble now. “The good smell of green growing things?” I murmur.

“Yes,” says the seven-year-old. “Life.”


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1 comment
  • Beautiful, Devin! Thank you so much! And thank you for mentioning Stephen…for, as Augustine said, if it weren’t for his prayers, we wouldn’t have a Saint Paul.