Spring break – the pressure is on. Are you taking your family someplace good? After all, your kids need some good stories for the first Monday back. They will be competing with tales of Atlantis, Harry Potter World, or the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. You will see Facebook posts of families at petting zoos and ski resorts.
Perhaps you can’t afford a trip like that. Maybe you can’t get that much time off work or you simply don’t have the energy to plan and enjoy a trip. Our lives are so busy that even fun things are sometimes too exhausting to contemplate.
You need a playcation.
This is not the same as a staycation. A staycation is the adult way of saying that you can’t afford a vacation so you’re going to clean out the garage instead. Sure, you might also have lunch with a friend or read a light novel. But really, you’re just going to catch up around the house.
A playcation is the adult way of saying that you can’t afford a vacation so you’re just going to let your kids entertain themselves. Sure, you might take them to a movie. But really, they are just going to fart around.
“Just” Playing is Enough
The good news is: your kids might adore this. Children have a constant buffet of activities: nature trips, museums, amusement parks, theme restaurants, etc. But in many ways those things are just like school: they get up early to be there on time. They follow rules. They stand in line. They pay attention. They learn about what is in front of them. Adults will ask them questions about what they have learned. (“Wasn’t that dinosaur amazing? What did the dolphin feel like?”) Then they go home.
I dragged my kids to all kinds of enriching experiences. They liked it, sort of. But they couldn’t wait to get home and play.
By that I mean free play – spending time with friends with little or no direction from adults. Their idea of play is not what you might expect. Their idea of play is so basic. Once my 10-year-old and his friend took turns burying themselves under all their stuffed animals on the bed. One boy would bury himself, and the other boy would burst into the room. The buried boy would spring up in surprise – sending the stuffed animals flying all over the room in all directions. They did this over and over again, laughing harder each time. Then they started doing it with funny voices and accents. Then they morphed it into some other game I couldn’t identify. They were happy for two hours.
I watch kids playing at recess every day. In my experience as an aide in an elementary school, I have seen how children crave unstructured play time. Given the choice, they will choose their own type of play over a structured game every time. The vast majority of kids:
Prefer free draw to coloring “in the lines,”
Often just wander around the field aimlessly talking with a friend,
Can invent a game with nothing at all,
Love to be wildly physical. They run, grab, scream, hug, drag and fall down over and over again. They roll down hills or climb up the slide. They seek constant physical experimentation that has nothing to do learning to pass a soccer ball or taking turns shooting hoops.
Less is More
We want so much for our children. We want them to be independent, creative, and confident. In our zeal to endow their lives with excellence we are layering on too many choices, too many experiences, too many activities. It might be better if we gave them less. When is it their turn to decide how they’ll spend the afternoon?
It might sound boring to you – but staying home to just play might be the vacation they will enjoy the most. Let them have friends over to build a fort in the basement or make a mess in their room. You might not be showing them a work of art by Picasso or taking them snorkeling in the Keys, but you will be allowing them to stretch their imaginations, learn resilience and independence, and find new ways to problem solve. Yes, you will give them all that – just by dialing it back and letting them indulge in free play. Plus, you’ll save a boat load of money.
Put that on your Facebook page.