The Importance of Play

I’ve been thinking this morning about the many moms that I’ve heard say something like this, “I’m trying to implement Lifestyle of Learning™ principles in our homeschool, but my kids aren’t DOING anything, they aren’t interested in anything.”

So then I like to ask them, “Are you serious?  They don’t do ANYTHING? They literally sit on the couch with their hands folded doing NOTHING?”

Then they have to admit, “No, they JUST play. All they want to do is play. My husband and I are concerned about it, because we can’t see how playing with LEGOs will prepare them for life.”

The reason parents can’t see the value in play, is because they’re looking at the object of the play – the LEGOs or the stuffed animals, or the dirt, or the dolls, instead of at the properties of play itself.

True play is made up of discovery, experimentation, imagination, and creativity.

Most people currently believe that school prepares people for life, but let’s look at the properties of school—sit still, finish assignments that someone else gives you, remember knowledge that came from someone else long enough to pass a test. These are the essential elements of school so that if a person cannot do them, they don’t do well in school. If they cannot sit still, or they don’t finish their assignments, or if they do not remember enough to pass tests, then parents and teachers will say they have problems in school, and they begin to believe that this person will not be “successful.”

In order for children to be unsuccessful at play, they must have no desire to discover, no desire or ability to experiment, have no imagination, and be completely uncreative. As I write this out, that actually describes an awful lot of people who have successfully completed school.

If you think of the most successful people in life….go ahead and actually name a few successful people in your mind…..are they those whose chief abilities are to sit still, do only what they’re told, and remember knowledge that came from someone else for a little while?  Or are they people who discover, experiment, imagine and/or are creative?

Parents often wrongly believe that if their children become good at play, they will never be able to sit still, do what someone else tells them to do, and remember knowledge that comes from someone else. But that’s really a silly thought process. Children have to do what they’re being told to do, and gain knowledge from someone else just in the course of real life, in learning first how to do chores, and then proceeding on to learning all the skills needed to manage a household. Being able to sit still comes with learning how to be self-controlled in all manner of ways. These are life lessons that don’t take 13 years of schooling to accomplish.

On the other hand, if ALL they are led to do is sit still, do what they’re told, and remember someone else’s knowledge for a little while, they will completely lose the skills necessary for play—desire and ability for discovery, experimentation, imagination, and creativity.

“Yeah, but when does discovery, experimentation, imagination, and creativity move past LEGOs, dolls, cardboard, dirt and stuffed animals?”

It moves slowly by slowly as your children mature. When children play, they end up having needs.  If they’re playing “horse” they soon need saddle-bags and reigns.  If they’re playing dolls or stuffed animals, they soon need furniture and small houses.  If they’re making dirt structures, they soon need more solid structures, or bigger dirt piles and something to move them with. Play produces need, and need causes problems (How are we going to make or find what we need?), and the problems cause discovery, experimentation, imagination, and creativity to be propelled forward into more maturity.

When children are propelled forward by need, and problem-solving they develop purpose.  And as they mature, the ability to meet needs by solving problems and their purpose matures. In my home, by the time my children have reached 13, 14, or 15 years old, their play has turned into real, marketable, professional-level skills and abilities combined with heaps of discovery, experimentation, imagination, and creativity. Then they have several more years of maturing into solid purpose and continued preparation for life.

Oh yeah, and my children do know how to sit still, do what they’re told, and remember things long enough to pass tests!

So dear parents, LET THEM PLAY, and stop looking at the object of their play. Look for and encourage discovery, experimentation, imagination, and creativity. Look for and encourage need-meeting, problem-solving, and purposefulness.

If your children have been to school for a while, or they’ve been forced to do a great deal of school at home, or the home environment has heaps of relational strife, they may have forgotten how to play, and it will take time, love, and wisdom to restore them. But when children have lots of time at home, and they are not surrounded with entertainment, and their environment is free from relational strife, they WILL engage in true play.

So go ahead and encourage them in their play. They’re learning how to be successful!


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  1. MichelleG
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    LOVING watch my kids play! Sometimes I get focused on the object of their play (stuffed animals) and start to worry. But then I remember all the creativity, decisions and problem solving that go into every single session of play and I get calm again!

  2. Breana Langendoen
    Posted October 12, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    This post was God’s vioce to me this morning. Thankyou!

  3. Leslie
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    “But when children have lots of time at home, and they are not surrounded with entertainment, and their environment is free from relational strife, they WILL engage in true play.” This sums up the entire philosophy of LOL: having an environment free from relational strife sure makes for a peaceful life where play, learning, and relaxation can be in balance. Thanks, Barbie.

  4. Alison Byers
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    I’d say my kids do nothing. Left on their own they do nothing except play iPod, watch tv on iPad or playstation. I’m continually having to get them off, direct their attention elsewhere. Maybe I’ve left it too late, starting homeschooling 3 years ago. Kids are 11, 14 and 16. I’d be interested in your thoughts Barbie. Thanks.

  5. Posted February 11, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    My 10 yr old son is very adhd and is already behind according to traditional ways of thinking, he has never really played with toys, and minimally delves into legos, for play. He doesn’t color, or do anything artsy,he will walk around with a small object, car or small rubber animal and just talk with it walk around tapping it on furniture as his play. He does much better outside when its frogs and toad season,but we live in the frigid Northeast, where snow and cold visits for a long season. Basically my question is how to engage him in play, I really believe that would be a key to unlock some of his hyperactivity. I do have him do the measuring etc when we make bread etc, but his attention span is sooo short. Any suggestionsb how to direct us?
    Thank you in advance

    • BarbiePoling
      Posted February 11, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      Dear Keisha,
      It sounds like your son might be making up stories in his head while he’s playing with his small toy. You could ask him to tell you what is happening with the toy and encourage the story he’s making. You must make sure that you’re prepared to listen to the story and let him know you value the story, otherwise he probably won’t be able to trust you with it. You could get him more of the little toys, and take pictures of him with them, and validate his story play. I would also encourage you to take him on fun memory building outings with just you and your children, so that you can deepen your relationship together.
      ~ Barbie Poling

      • Posted February 12, 2014 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

        Thank you Barbie for your insight. Which leads me to this next question. We have our son enrolled in a gymnastics class, to burn off energy these winter mos, BUT, he isn’t focused enough to really get what he could from it and then clowns around, I am wondering if its too much stimulation for him (other classes are going on all around him) if he could just run loose in an open gym that would be more beneficial than these actual structured classes that are requiring him to focus . What would your take be on this. Sorry for the questions, I have just come on board with WWOL/LOL and I so want this child to be nurtured in the ways of The Lord as opposed to my feeling that I am either a drill sergeant or policeman to him. Thank you again

    • mumof 5
      Posted July 16, 2016 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

      when my eldest was 5 yo, i watched my mom-in -law play legos with him and i learned how to interact with my child. i followed and did the same as time allowed. often i would bring a toy to life by giving it a voice and a life of its own. he followed and developed his own imagination, far beyond my own. does a child need to be taught how to play? probably not, but a little help in the imagination department goes a long way.

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