Breathing In, Breathing Out
Protecting Play in School-Age Children

As a parent, I have often found myself thinking, “when we get past the twos” or “it’ll be easier when this season passes”, “when they can tie their own shoes”, etc…inevitably rushing through childhood so life can feel less complicated (and maybe so mama can get more sleep.) But what I’ve realized I’m doing is, if in no other way but in my own mind, wishing them into adulthood. 

But here’s the thing, childhood is so beautiful and they’re not ready to be adults. They need time to experience life and process it through being children. Stories need to be told and books need to be read. Sticky hands need to work in the kitchen and mud pies need to be made in the backyard.

Daily Rhythm

I have three children, ages 4, 6 and 10. At this point, my two oldests have been introduced to a more structured learning experience that involves reading, writing and mathematics. Because, yes, it’s important for me as a homeschool mother to give them a proper education. But even more so, it’s important for me to make space for them to breathe and have a full childhood, with the opportunity to grow into healthy adults who are prepared for life without the guidance of a parent (without mama and papa). This is why, in our home, we have intentionally put protections into place that provide the children with the time and space to be, well, children

Our daily rhythm is structured around three important key factors: meal times, sleep times and free play. Of course we involve sit down, structured time to learn, but we do so with the understanding that it happens only as long as none of the above three are compromised. Especially play

Free play for children is so very essential. It provides them with the opportunity to process experiences and build skills that will help them later on in life. And what’s more is, children intuitively know the type of imaginative play they need to act out in order to process their experiences. They most often don’t even need our help in doing so! But it’s our duty as parents to make sure we’re giving them the freedom and time to imagine and express. 

Breathing in and Breathing out

In our home, we follow a pattern that is found in many waldorf-style schools and homes, known as breathing in and breathing out. Let me explain.

Breathing in, for us, often looks like sitting down together on the sofa and reading a storybook aloud. Lately, the children have taken an interest in Abraham Lincoln and his life on the frontier. We read for as long as their interest holds and then we breathe out. More often than not, the children collectively run upstairs and gather whatever scraps of clothing they find in their dress up and start up a game of role play. One plays the character of Abe, the other his mother who’s dying from milk sickness and the third, the concerned father who does all he can to solely provide for his family before remarrying. And guess what, they’re playing, but they’re LEARNING. 

Another way we practice this breathing philosophy is by working with mama in the kitchen. All of my children have learned to love helping in the kitchen, each in their own way.  Emerson, my middle child and youngest daughter, loves chopping vegetables and making our family’s homemade version of a vinaigrette. Francis, my youngest and my only son, loves hand washing dishes and playing in the sink water, whatever that may look like on a given day. Eliot, my oldest daughter loves peeling vegetables and poking holes into potatoes before putting them into the oven for baking. I take this time to invest in them, while building in them skills that they will use (and hopefully appreciate) when they enter into adulthood.

We are breathing in together and soaking in an experience that will later be processed by them during free time. When chopping and washing and peeling and baking time is over, we breathe out. This can sometimes look like going outside on a beautiful day and making their own pies and cakes and soups with mud and sticks and “rosemary” (bits cut from our evergreen trees.) And while they are reenacting an experience that I’ve given them, they are processing and learning while they play.   

To quote Mr. Rogers, “Play gives children the chance to practice what they are learning.” 

Are we, as parents, making sure we are giving our children room to breathe? Do our children have an adequate opportunity to play?

Afterall, they are still children. 

Written by: Tiffani Reese

To listen to the most recent episode of The Intentional Childhood Podcast on Purposeful Play, click here.

Tiffani Reese is a mother of three, currently residing and homeschooling in the Rocky Mountains. She is passionate about curating a life and home that promotes a love of creating and exploring and living a life that sparks joy in herself and those around her @tiffanireese

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