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What I liked most about the talk I attended last night is the idea proposed that we, the parents of preschool children, are THE best toy our babies ever have, and that we as people trump anything you can buy or put in front of your child.

This I learned at a talk hosted by the West Chester Preschool Parent’s Club and given by Dr. Kathy Hirsch-Pasek, professor at Temple University and author of the book Einstein Never Used Flash Cards. She is an expert on language development in infants and had plenty to say about the importance of play. In modeling this idea for us she used no fewer than three different delightfully put-on accents (British, Brooklyn?, Jewish?) sprinkled throughout her talk, an easy way to play with your kids just by being. But also she tells us that stacking up blocks, reading books together, making up games in the grocery store and in the doctor’s office waiting room and in the bus on the way to wherever, are the kinds of activities that help children grow emotionally and grow into flexible thinkers, precisely what she says they as individuals and we as a society need now going into the future.

She touted the ideas of the six C’s, the report card of the future. She has us measuring the education of our children in a way that shows their likely ability to make it in the workplace and in the world of 2043, the professional future of today’s preschoolers. She points out that knowing more than others by memorizing facts is an idea already outdated, handily displaced by computers. It is instead Collaboration, Communication, Content, Critical Thinking, Confidence and Creative Innovation that one needs to develop today.

But for me a topic she mentioned only in passing, but truly the one I love most, is that the truth of playing with children is that there is pure joy in it for us as adults. Having kids gives me the chance to do it again because after all playing is by definition FUN. I grant myself the time to do it, recognizing what Dr. Hirsch-Pasek confirms, it is just plain good for kids who benefit in myriad ways we can never fully appreciate, but also because I know it is good for me as well. It is good to indulge in the opportunity to be a kid again, with no worries. It is good to give ourselves a moment of the freedom of free time unattached to expense or obligation or status or any of the other things that typically go with our own adult versions of play. Kid play is different and truly magical if you let it be. Puppets will speak out loud your subconscious for you, and coloring in abstract designs that a Rorschach theorist might enjoy, are moments we do not typically allow. For me, being home alone with little kids, playing and engaging in deliberate eye contact, and building the kind of relationship I never got with my own mother, was a passion that kept us ‘too busy’ to sign up for more organized programs. Playing is important to me.

In the end I had the fun of play with each of my three kids in a game that lasted until each grew big enough to run away to the next phase of life. Yes, I had grown up things to do too, but I allowed myself that release a little at a time (Dr. Hirsch-Pasek suggests two minutes at least) because I am adult and can grant myself whatever I see fit. And playing is good for us all. The time they are little is fleeting, and now, with mine at 21, 18 and 15, play of that nature, the kind that builds kids into who they will someday be, is long gone. When do you get to skip as an adult? You don’t. Time like that is fleeting and boy am I glad I seized it when I could.

See Dr. Hirsch-Pasek’s website for more ideas about playing with kids and building your child’s great big important really cool and competitive future.