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Nora Swango Stanger: Let the children play

I believe God put a special spirit of joy in children.

If you don’t think so, just watch them. From the moment they can stand, when a little one hears music their small bodies simply must dance.

Is there anything more entertaining than watching a child at play? The most creative problem solving, dealing with the tiniest details that adults never seem to see, is easily accomplished when children are in charge.

My backyard neighbors have several grandbabies under the age of seven. While the parents are at work they have “Granny Camp.” Hearing the children’s chatter and laughter is like music flowing in the wind all the way to my porch.

I love discovering the pictures posted on Facebook of the youngest in my own family. You can see the excitement in the eyes of the children as they show off the fish they caught or the pumpkin they picked from the patch all by themselves.

I see Isabella proudly displays her cheerleading uniform while Owen shows off his football bruises.

You don’t have to provide formal activities for children to make their own fun.

Recently, my baby sister, Terri posted a video of the Baker trio, her son’s children, scaling a huge pile of dirt. Their determination to race to the top, despite the loose ground slipping beneath their feet, brought smiles to all who watched.

It didn’t even matter that Annabel was sporting a cast on her arm, nothing slowed them down!

I love the mental pictures I have of my children playing with a small wagon when they were young. They sat back-to-back in the wagon, propped an umbrella between them for shade and took turns pushing themselves with the force of their feet against the road. I can still hear their little voices as they evaluated each other’s effort with mild, moderate and severe ratings.

As a little girl living up White Hollow off Aaron’s Creek, we discovered a special cluster of pine trees on the hill that became our playhouse.

The trees were growing tightly together and to get to the center of the cluster we had to crawl on our bellies. Once in the center of the cluster, it was as though we had entered an inner sanctum. The ground was covered in a thick, soft carpet of dried pine needles. The sunlight shining through the tightly woven boughs were like a thousand candles twinkling through stained glass windows of a holy cathedral.

In the playhouse, we had many adventures. Our babies were pine cones that we covered with Sycamore leaf blankets. Dead sticks stacked in the corner with a flat rock on top made up our cook stove. Some of us would pretend to be hunting the hills for meat for our dinner, while others would tell the babies stories and sing them to sleep.

Imaginative play is one of the most important and educational activities in a child’s life. Here they learn to problem solve, take turns and self-regulation. I have observed parents competing to get their children into the most prestigious preschools and barrage the smallest of humans with daily ‘enrichment’ activities.

Parents, and sometimes even grandparents, worry that if they can’t provide the best electronic gadgets their children will somehow fall behind others. Parents, don’t put this pressure on yourself or on your children. Just provide your presence to marvel at their ability to be in wonder of life, to hear their magnificent stories, and to show them paths of new discoveries without feeling the need to plan every detail for them.

Let the children play.

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at norastanger@gmail.com.