I have been thinking a lot lately about play lately. Maybe you have, too. The popularity of Pokemon Go! has me evaluating (again) the place for electronics, group play and time outside.
When my kids were little, we intentionally created opportunities for them to both play outside and use their imaginations. Some of our techniques were unusual (and certainly counter-cultural) but we were comfortable with both.
When Noah was born, we had the opportunity to live and work with college students which also allowed us to study an “end-game” of sorts. We watched as mommas said good-bye to their babies. (Even typing that still chokes me up. It was a powerful thing to observe.) And we watched those babies adjust to their adult lives. We saw what they were taught in the way they lived and what they chose to do with the freedom they enjoyed. We watched faith flourish and flounder and came to understand both as normal phases of life. And all that watching helped us to choose a path for our parenting decisions.
So, we worked hard to keep communication open and to encourage lots of play. We put our kids outside with few toys and trusted them to discover ways to engage one another without the distraction of entertainment. We told them the world was an amazing place and while we played with them often and we certainly stayed nearby enough to ensure their safety, we also wanted them to revel in the wonder of free play. This, they did. Bushes became forts and entire worlds of their own making sprang forth from the colorful confines of their blossoming minds.
And we loved it.
For years and years, it seemed, we had a gaggle of little ones that found ways to play with one another and do so creatively. Until…
Around the time our oldest was in 5th or 6th grade, he began to play imaginatively less. Developmentally, he saw things differently. Always a thoughtful kid, he began to pull away from the make-believe play that he and his siblings had always enjoyed and spent time reading, honing sports skills, thinking… It was, of course, totally normal. But for his brother, a year and a half behind him and always wanting to engage, it was hard and confusing. His dearest friend, his closest sibling, was choosing a different way. We would watch this same thing play out, at different stages and ages, for each of our kids. Sometimes it was a phase. Sometimes it became a new way of life. But truth be told, we missed the fun of watching our four play together.
Fast forward 8 years.
In an effort to be truthful, I will tell you that I was never a Pokemon fan. I allowed my kids to have cards when they were little, which they have kept for all these years, but I just did not love it. I am not even sure why I felt as I did. But, when Pokemon Go! came out this summer, I was intrigued. Whether participating in sports or enjoying free-play, our children have always spent summers outdoors. As the app launched, we noticed that there were LOTS of kids outside. Running. Playing. Talking. Enjoying one another. These are all good things! So we green-lighted the download for our younger two and they joined their brothers in game.
It has been about a month and here is what we see:
~Our older kids are inviting our younger ones to go on walks to catch Pokemon.
~Our kids are encouraging one another, teaching one another and speaking the same (strange) language.
~Our kids are sharing a goal… and they do not have to trample one another to accomplish said goal.
~Our kids are actually reading about landmarks where Pokestops are located and teaching us about what they are learning.
And they are having fun. Together.
Of course, we can pick this thing to pieces and talk about why it is bad that they are on phones and we can point out that this is just another version of a video game and kids are getting hurt because they are not looking where they are going and it is just another obsessive experience that is costing us data and will likely be over soon.
Yep, you can look at it just like that. (Though parenting our kids intentionally can also impact most of these complaints.)
But, from where I sit, I am soaking up a summer of seeing my four kids laughing and running together. They are spending actual time, side-by-side, and sharing a game that will become part of their shared memories. And it is not violent and they are outside and I am okay with all of that.
We were downtown Chicago yesterday, biking the lakefront. It was a glorious day. When we arrived at Navy Pier, my husband and I sat in a park and watched over the bikes while our four kiddos headed onto the Pier together. (At ages 19, 17, 13 and 12, we knew this would be just fine. Also, bikes aren’t allowed on the Pier so our decision to hang back allowed our kids to play.) They stayed together, enjoyed the sights and caught one of the rarest Pokemon any of them have ever seen. They came back smiling and telling their tale. Noah, our oldest, looked at us and earnestly said, “It’s been a long time since we have had a game we could all play happily together…”
It sure has.
So, this momma is grateful for Pokemon Go! That doesn’t mean we check our parenting at the door. We still encourage limits. Yesterday, before we got back on the bikes, we put the phones in backpacks and made a point of being present together without the distraction of electronics. We enjoyed our city and our time and allowed this game to be just part of our day in Chicago. Balance, ya know. It’s a very good thing.
At the end of the day, we all had tired legs and ice cream on our chins. We made memories and tried something new. My kids also had a Dragonair in their collection. Not too bad for a Sunday downtown.
We can fuss all we want about the place that electronics and entertainment has taken in our lives. There is often reason to fuss. And we certainly need to evaluate both our use and the content of whatever we choose to allow. But, a video game that has my kids playing outside together, engaged in a world that is largely imaginative? This momma says yes.