kids playing at the lake

Kids play with anything

This is going to be a short post today, because I’m writing it in the passenger seat of our minivan, heading to my in-laws’. It is 11:53 p.m.—move out day. We’ve had quite the laborious Labor Day weekend, stacking the remaining boxes in our storage unit and filing our backpacks with next years’ necessities.

We’re grateful our house’s new owners agreed to let us live in the house till the end of summer, long after we sold it; this way, we were able to move out slowly and thoughtfully (that didn’t mean we still didn’t have last-minute cleanup and packing, but I digress). In the past two weeks, as all but the absolute essentials were carted off, I was reminded of a beautifully simple truth.

Kids really, really don’t need much to be content.

As of a week ago, our kids have only had wooden blocks, books, and art supplies in the house. Everything else was packed, out of sight and apparently out of mind. Our three kids, age 9 and under, found happiness playing with the dirt and sticks outside, the paint and paper from the craft cabinet, and for the first time in about a year, they actually played with those blocks.

In fact, because everything else was gone, those few playthings became special, sacred even. The kids could better see them. And they never missed their other things.

It reminded me of Maria Montessori’s insight over a hundred years ago, when she witnessed young children in an empty room playing with their food that fell to the floor: she discovered the simple truth that kids are hard-wired to play, no matter their environment.

kids play with anything

Now, does an intentional environment contribute to more creativity, a self-motivated desire to learn? Of course (that’s chapter 28 of Blue Bike, in fact). I’m all for a thoughtfully-curated collection of toys and games.

But goodness if they don’t need very much. Our kids get to pick out one special toy for our year-long journey, and that’s just fine by us. Truth is, they tend to figure out how to play with whatever’s right in front of them. Sometimes we just need to get out of the way.

Just like the tin foil balls our kids played with for three hours yesterday afternoon.

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