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By Karla Kay Edwards
Outside the wind was howling, the snow was drifting, the temperatures were dropping. Looking out the front window I realize how grateful I was to have the warmth of home to keep the elements at bay. I was also getting “cabin fever” as winter was still at its fury in February. How I longed for those warm summer days on the beach. In my mind, I began listening to the waves lap the shores while the sea gulls sang their songs of sand and water. I yearned to sun myself on the banks of a lake.
Inside the wood stove was fired up, electric lights replaced the sun, and it looked like one more day of winter would keep us inside. It would be another day of chores and routine for me and my four small children. But those images of warm summer days continued to fill my mind. It was at that moment I decided we all needed to spend the day at the beach.
Gathering my children, we began to formulate a plan. We would need scenery, surf boards, beach balls, swimming and summer wear. A picnic basket filled with all the aromas of summer would be required. Yards of butcher paper were fastened to the walls of the family room. Those walls soon began transforming into the waves of the ocean. Pictures portrayed whales sputtering water above themselves. Multicolored marine life swam in the waters or played on the sand. Several dazzling, smiling suns dotted the bright blue sky. Cardboard surf boards were made and strategically placed on the carpet. Beach toys and balls scattered the floor to complete our make – believe sunny summer day.
By the time my husband returned home from work, we were all in our summer clothes, the wood stove had been cranked up, the picnic basket was loaded, and the Beach Boys were blaring on the CD player. We headed to the ocean front, or rather, to the transformed family room. There, a red checkered table cloth was spread on the ground. We ate sandwiches, carrots, grapes, and drank cool – aid. Then we put on sun screen (which helped to invite the smells of summer) and danced to the music. It was a delightful day of giggling, playing, laughing, and making a memory that would remain in our hearts forever.
Play is a very important part of children’s life. Play is the business of children. It is essential because of the contribution it presents toward the development of a child’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well–being. But more importantly, play offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children. If parents play with their children, a stronger relationship will bolster the family unit.
Parents who truly enjoy the company of their young children will reap the benefits. A stronger connection must become central as the children move into the teenage years, onto adolescence, and finally adulthood. The perfect time to cultivate this bond is during childhood. The best way to connect is to laugh, play, and work together. If an offer of social interaction within a family is suggested only after children are teenagers, chances are, friends will become the social force of choice.
As children progress towards their teenage years, parents often are “replaced’ as the entertainment committee, even worse, they are substituted as confidante. These replacements come in the form of friends and cohorts. A key in keeping the family unit connected is to create activities more inviting. When I asked my son why he so eagerly participated in family outings as a teenager, he replied, “Because you made it more fun than hanging out with my friends”. That seems to be the key ingredient. Make family together time more enjoyable than “hanging out with friends”!
Diane Loomans said it best,
If I had my children to raise all over again,
I’d build self-esteem first, and the house later.
I’d finger-paint more, and point the finger less.
I would do less correcting and more connecting.
I’d take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.
I’d take more hikes and fly more kites.
I’d stop playing serious, and seriously play.
I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars.
I’d do more hugging and less tugging.
Parent’s who only enjoy their children’s company once they reach adulthood miss out on years of joy, happiness, and strong family ties. Laughter and play can be a soothing balm to the challenges of guiding children through their life. The best advice is to, “Stop playing serious, and seriously play.”
Karla Edwards is a member of the faculty in the Department of Home and Family at Brigham Young University - Idaho