Fatherhood Ink Slingers Michelle Motherhood Parenting Spiritual Growth Vocations

Hang Up the Phone and Play!

It was Saturday afternoon and the sun shone brightly in the sky. After so much rain recently, my children were excited to be outside enjoying the warmth on their backs. The windows were up and I could hear them playing with the neighborhood kids. Squeals of delight, shouts of “tag, you’re it!”, and the occasional squabble could be heard wafting on the gentle breeze that ruffled the curtains hanging over my windows. It is in moments like these that I smile knowing that my kids are having a great childhood. The memories they are making now will stay with them forever.

Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

As I glanced out the window I could see the kids chasing the chickens. I smiled again and went about my chores. Underneath the window I heard the voice of one of my daughters. Her friend was over to play. I heard Anna, who is 10, say to her friend who is 9, “Please. Please, can you put away your phone? I thought you wanted to play.” Her friend responded, “But I just got my phone back. You know it was broken and I haven’t been able to use it.” Anna responded, “But we are outside. You know my mama doesn’t allow it in the yard and doesn’t allow us to sit and look at it with you. You can look at it later. Let’s play!”

I listened as they debated back and forth for a minute or two and then heard her friend say with a huge sigh, “Fine.” A few minutes later I looked out the window to see her friend going home. The draw of her phone was too much to keep her in the backyard running around with the other kids chasing chickens and playing tag. I felt very sad for her. To be honest, I felt very sad for all our children.

I understand when a parent feels like their child must have a phone when they are at school, at sports, or when they are away from home. While I don’t agree with the sentiment, I don’t judge parents who feel they must have access to their children, or their children must have access to them, at all times.

Our situation is different from many people we know and so none of our children have cell phones until they have graduated, are working, and can buy it on their own. We homeschool, I volunteer for many of the activities they go to, and I stay at home. I’m with them all the time. We have a home phone so that if I’m not home they will be able to call for help should they need it or should they want to talk to a friend on the phone (remember tying up the line when you were a kid? Our kids can still do that!). When they do go places and do things without me, it seems as if every single other kid has a phone (as do all the adults) so they can always borrow someone’s phone to call me if they need to.  My kids don’t need a cell phone. To be honest, even if we didn’t homeschool and I wasn’t home with them all the time our kids still wouldn’t have cell phones.

chalkBut this isn’t about whether or not my child or yours needs his own phone. No, this is about teaching our children that there is life outside of the phone they carry on them at all times. This is about teaching our children to shut their phones off and go play. This is about allowing our children to put away the electronics and go be children- to use their imaginations, run, play, color on the driveway, get sweaty, argue with each other, learn from one another, sing, skip, and laugh.

We do our children an incredible disservice when we allow them to continuously tote around their phones, ipods, video games, tablets, and all the other electronics that have invaded their lives. While these gadgets can be amazing tools to help encourage our kids to learn, they can also be incredible detriments to our kids.  They steal precious time away from our children; time that we can never get back.

When we encourage our children to play using their imaginations and to interact face to face with siblings and other friends we are actually encouraging our kids in ways that a phone, a tablet, or a video game never could. The benefits of imaginative play speak for themselves:

  • Kids who engage in play with other children improve their social skills by learning to cooperate with one another, they learn problem solving and conflict resolution, they learn how to negotiate, and they learn how to understand each other’s emotions, needs, and feelings.
  • Kids who play are more active, make healthier decisions in regards to food and exercise choices, they fidget less, and are able to concentrate more.
  • Kids involved in physical activity as well as imaginative play increase their brain development. Play actually changes the neurons at the front of the brain in the prefrontal cortex! This change helps regulate emotions, problem solving, and helps a child to learn to reason. Additionally, play has been shown to increase memory functions and language development.
  • Kids who regularly play have lower stress levels.
  • Kids who get enough play time make better grades in school.
  • Kids who play are making memories that will last a lifetime!

snailAs schools prepare to let out and summer overtakes our lives, I beg you to tell your kids to put away their electronics. Ban them for most of the day and only allow them at certain times for a limited time. Instead, encourage your kids to go outside and play. Let them drink from the hose, make mud pies, build forts, camp under the stars, play Red Light, Green Light, ride their bikes, run through the sprinkler, build sandcastles, go on a nature walk, collect rocks, catch bugs, eat lunch in the grass, share secrets while they share a popsicle with a friend, sing, scream, and laugh.

Don’t have a safe outside environment or friends around? Ask a friend to come over and do many of these same things inside! Who remembers building forts out of blankets spread across the couches and the kitchen chairs drug into the living room? I sure do! Find ways to encourage play inside if you can’t go outside. Play with playdoh, build with blocks, cook, play with water beads, play board games together, have a talent show, play dress up, get out the craft bucket and go wild! Put your imagination to work and make memories!

As parents we want the best for our children. We often confuse what is truly the best with what society tells us is best. The “best” shoes, clothes, music players, tablets, and phones are great but they aren’t what are most important for any of us, let alone for our young children. The best thing we can do for our children is to put up their electronics and allow them to play as children should. We have to let them be kids again. If we don’t we will rob them of something that is not just important but is actually vital for their well-being.

One last piece of encouragement for you… as you turn off your children’s phones and put up their electronic distractions, turn off yours too. Play with your children.  Make memories with them. I promise you will benefit every bit as much as they will.

Anna with Aunt Jemima, one of the kids’ favorite playmates 🙂


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The Fountain of Youth

The Fountain of Youth is a spring that is rumored to bring everlasting youth and/or life to those who bathe in or drink from its waters.  From Herodotus to famed explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, the Fountain has been hunted for thousands of years.   But why do so many seek it?  Why would someone want to be forever young and does the Fountain truly exist?

I suppose that there are many reasons one may search out the Fountain of Youth.  Some may want to drink from it for vain reasons, while some may just want to cling to a time in their lives where they felt truly alive. For many the best time of their lives was when they had little responsibility; where they didn’t worry about what bills to pay, what to make for supper, or whether or not the tires on the car would last another six months.  They long for a simpler time when they played outside until the sun set, laughed and had sleep overs, and just hung out with friends.  They look to hold on to those great experiences that they had a child or teen- those things that “young people” do but that as adults often are no longer done.

Where is the Fountain of Youth? Does it really exist? I believe it does.  I’m also pretty certain I have found it.  You see I found the Fountain of Youth in a very surprising place…. it was in me this entire time!

Are you scratching your head right about now asking what in the world is she talking about?  If so I beg of you for just a minute more to explain myself.  You see, I can look in the mirror and see the tell-tale signs of getting older.  I see the gray hair that is springing up in between my blond tresses.  I see the tiny wrinkles forming in the corners of my eyes.  My back gets sore and my feet ache a little sooner than they used to.  My memory isn’t as sharp as it was and I find myself feeling like time is beginning to just pass by too quickly.  But even with these little signs telling me I’m getting older I also know that because I made life changing decision many years ago that the Fountain flows freely in and through me.  Are you curious as to what my secret may be?

Many years ago my husband and I decided to be open to life.  It has been one of the best decisions we have ever made.  Not only has it been an honor to be a part of bringing life into the world, it has also been instrumental in keeping us young!  We first became parents 20 years ago and yet just 3 months ago we had our 11th child.  That is 20 years of child-bearing and rearing! Most people our age or those who started having children about the same time as us are about to have an empty house as their children move up and out.  Not so with us.  Even if we were to have no more children we are still looking at 18 more years of having children in our home.  If our youngest child moves at that time we’ll have had children in our home for almost 40 years straight!  I know to some that sounds exhausting but for me it is rejuvenating!

As I was thinking about what to write I made a list of all the things I am still doing today that I did 20 years ago with my first daughter. When I first began the list I wondered how many things I would have written down.  Before long I had nearly 50 activities!  I looked at the list and wondered how many others my age are still playing with playdoh, singing John Jacob Jingleheimerschmidt, swinging on the swings at the park, having a dance or singing contest, dressing up their pets, having campfires in the backyard complete with tents and s’mores, dressing up as superheroes, playing doctor, wearing moustaches just because it’s Monday, dying Easter eggs, carving pumpkins at Halloween, and waiting on pins and needles for Santa to get here.  I imagine that many of those my age have put away the slip-n-slide, haven’t read a bedtime story in a long time, played hide and seek, nor made a snow angel in years.  And yet here I am 20 years later still getting to play every single day!  It’s no wonder I feel so much younger than my years!

This isn’t to say that being open to life is all fun and games.  It’s not.  With a large number of children comes worries about finances, how we will feed them all, more medical problems, less time to myself, lots of noise, and many other stressors.  Still, in the end God always provides for us, the love we have in our homes is staggering, and we get to play every day.  The benefits clearly speak for themselves!

Many people chase down remedies to help their aging bodies not look so “old”.  What these people do not understand is that we all are going to age and that is a good thing.  To be honest it would just be weird to be ten years old forever.  However, just because our bodies age doesn’t mean that our hearts and souls have to as well. I have found that immersing myself in my children’s lives and surrounding myself with youth itself has helped me stay youthful.  I know that eventually my children will be grown and gone.  I won’t be surrounded, at home, by youth forever.  But I also know that when that time comes I will look for ways to make sure I can still be involved with children.  I will volunteer with the youth at church.  I will look to the youth in my community and I will look to my grandchildren.  I see others who do this as well as their own children grow up and move one.  I hope to follow their lead.  Surrounding myself with the innocence and youth that radiates from children will indeed help me stay young.

The Fountain of Youth is real.  We can tap into it anytime we wish.  We only have to open ourselves up to God’s gift of children… whether it is by bringing a child into our family through birth, adoption, or some other means or if it is by working closely with children in our communities.   As Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” In Heaven we will be youthful and restored.  Why not begin that process here on Earth by accepting the little children just as Christ did?  Your body will still age but your heart and soul will surely stay young!