From the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission
What is it that children love to do? Play of course!
Parents and teachers (read ‘the adults’) often complain that all children want to do is play. But there are obvious benefits to play time for children for it is through play they begin developing into well-rounded adults.
“Play awakens the creativity of a child”, write José Granados and Juan Antonio Granados, authors of The Educational Covenant – Introduction to the Art of Living.
“One of the essential characteristics of play is seriousness; that is, play involves the entire being, it is a manifestation of the child’s entire personality. For this reason, play is to children what work is to adults. The child is affirmed by play because it is something apart from the world of work; play is a foreshadowing and a preparation for work.”
So, school is out, and play is in. Parents have the challenge of ensuring their children are well occupied during the July-August holidays. The ‘vacation camp’ industry has flourished over the years but occupying the children doesn’t mean only sending them off to camp.
Parents also need to ensure that they too play with their children. It’s all part of renewing family life.
Family rituals are good for family life. These rituals involve prayer, work, talk and play, explains Dr Greg Popcak in Renewing Catholic Family Life.
Prayer rituals include morning and evening prayer, grace at meals, family blessings, family rosary, attending Mass as a family.
Work rituals allow the entire family to get involved in household chores: cleaning up after a meal, and putting away toys, are good examples. It’s an opportunity for the family to bond.
Talk rituals include chatting over a meal, one-on-one time, and conversations about faith and values – not lectures.
When it comes to play rituals, these provide “an education in cooperation, social skills, virtue and morals”. Dr Popcak explains further that these rituals provide “ongoing formation in the prophetic mission of baptism by proclaiming healthy ways the Christian can experience pleasure, enjoyment, humour and connection – with a side effect of moral development”.
He advises that families with strong play rituals like game nights, movie nights, a weekly family day, frequent family celebrations, and holiday traditions do a much better job of retaining their connection and ability to mentor their teens and young adults.
Play rituals like those listed above teach family members to see one another as a source of joy, and facilitate intimacy by encouraging families to, as Pope Francis puts it “waste time together”.
Back in 2013, Pope Francis shared some advice to parents while addressing the then Pontifical Council for the Family, now known as the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life.
“When I hear the confession of a young married man or woman, and they refer to their son or daughter, I ask, ‘How many children do you have?’ and they tell me. Maybe they’re expecting another question after that, but I always ask, ‘And tell me, do you play with your children? Do you waste time with your children?’” He added, “The free gift of a parent’s time is so important.”
Dr Popcak laments that many faithful, godly families have allowed themselves to be reduced to a collection of individuals living under the same roof. “In a time when family life is choked out by so many other activities, we need to remember that most important activity we can ever be involved in is family life itself. We tend to think of family as something we have, not something we do, but ‘family’ is a verb, and we need to give family life the time it deserves if it is to bear the fruit our Catholic faith tells us it can.”
So, let the children play – and join them.