Are our preteens / teens too old to play? Though playtime looks different to the older child it still plays a significant part of their learning experiences.

We are very comfortable with the idea that our toddlers need to play but once our children get older we start to ply them with structured activity. We fill their days with sport and club commitments which limit their time to play. We justify it with wondering if they are really too old to play anyway.

The dictionary defines play as activities done for recreation and amusement. We all need to relax and have a life outside of work – remembering that work for our children includes their academic pursuits.

As children grow older there is a change in how they play. Initially toddlers play along side of other toddlers, often with the only interaction happening when two kids want the same toy! It was always a delight to me to see them grow and start to play with their playmates. As the teen years approached I started to see a difference between the boys and the girls in their play time activities. Boys get physical, girls get verbal. Without any boundaries both these tendencies will lead to idleness and trouble.

This is why we have established a principle of using our time wisely in our home. We have an understanding that regardless of what we choose to do with our time we can still relax and enjoy ourselves, though at no time do we have the freedom to do something that will cause us to sin. Admittedly, there are times that we just want to sit and talk, or play rough and tumble but there needs to be balance.

I believe the modern concept of just hangin’ leads to idle hands and idle lips. The scriptures talk about the foolishness of both.

When the owner is lazy, the roof sags;
when hands are idle, the house leaks. – Ec 10:18

This scripture has been one of the verses we have discussed when teaching our children to use their time wisely. The kids don’t “own a house” so what is the lesson? The house is them, their life. When they are lazy, when behaviour or choices get sloppy, hands are idle (lazy, nothing to do etc) then the house (their being, life, behaviour, them…) starts to leak, fall apart.

Examples of things falling apart would be inappropriate choices, unwise words, unkind actions, silliness, lack of self-control.

In my article Benefits of Play I looked at the educational value in playing and I still hold this to be true in older children as well. The only thing that looks different is the actual activities.

Physical activity, mental activity, hobbies, interests, fun relational time all is play for the older child. The older child will still learn relational skills, interface with responsibilities, grow in themselves, and discover knowledge when they are using their free time wisely.

I have often wondered about the wisdom of giving the title “Free Time” to our children. For some reason it stirs within the older child a sense of expectation, of their right to spend their time regardless of any boundaries. In recent years, I have adopted the term “Productive Free Time” and in using these words it turns the children’s hearts towards using their time wisely – even when it is totally their choice of activity.

Many times when our older children have play-dates (so to speak), they plan before hand how they are going to spend their time. The boys have been bushwalking, exploring, play cricket whereas the girls have turned towards creative pursuits such as beading, fimo-clay, or sewing. It is always a delight to walk into a room full of preteens and teens and hear them chatting away, enjoying each other’s company but not being silly.

Our kids are never too old to play – it just looks different.

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