It’s not all child’s play on a playground or at a park. Watching my son, it’s clear to me that the lessons he’s learning are applicable throughout life, for both kids and adults. Here are 12 Life Lessons As Observed on the Playground.
- Be Proud of Your Independence, but Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help. My son can get himself onto the swings, get his legs pumping, and he’s flying high. He certainly doesn’t need me the same way he used to. But, if his flip flops go flying off as he’s soaring high, he doesn’t hesitate to ask me to retrieve them so he won’t have to walk across rough wood chips.
- Patiently Wait Your Turn. There’s one slide, one set of steps to climb, and then each child takes a turn going down the slide. My son’s turn will come. As will his turn in other lines as he grows up — at the post office, the supermarket, the concession stand at the movies.
- Survey Your Surroundings. My son has learned to look at the bottom of the slide before he goes down. Is there a puddle of water from yesterday’s rain? Is there dirt, sand, or another child’s sand shovel? Does the metal feel too hot or will his shorts-wearing legs be okay sliding down?
- Give Some Space. I have taught my son not to stand too close to the child in front of him, just in case. That child may suddenly decide to swing his arms back and forth. She may do a little dance move. She may turn around and sneeze.
- Leave It Better Than You Found It. We didn’t make the trash, but when we go to the playground we do help pick up the trash we see there. Some days there’s more than others. Some days there are only a few errant straw wrappers, and it’s easy to pick them up and throw them away. Other days there are candy wrappers, a juice box, tissues, and more. We may not pick them all up; but we do our part to help out and make our environment a little better than we found it.
- Make a Connection to Others. We say hello to other children and adults we see at the playground. My son may offer another child a turn with his ball, or he may pick up the doll that a little girl has dropped from the top of the play structure and return it to her. Whether it’s an offer to help, just a smile and a quick “hi,” or an invitation to play, we’re making positive connections to others. As an adult, I’ve seen how powerful those smiles and “hello’s” can be, especially in a world that often feels very isolated.
- Take Care of Yourself. Whether at work or at play, we need to take care of ourselves. At the park, that may mean wearing proper shoes and clothing (shorts under a skirt, for example). It means staying hydrated and paying attention to the weather and playing in the shade on super hot days. It means washing hands when coming into the house.
- Be Polite and Courteous. Say “hi,” “please,” and “thank you.” Compliment a new trick on the monkey bars or someone else’s new jump rope you’re admiring. Don’t cut in line. Say “good-bye” and “thanks for playing with me,” if you joined in someone else’s game.
- Be Mindful Of Your Surroundings and How Your Actions Affect Others. No one lives in a bubble, including our kids while they’re playing at the park. My son knows he can’t swing as high as he usually does when there’s a young baby in the baby swings because the whole apparatus will shake and vibrate. So he swings slower, lower, and more gently. He doesn’t swing his legs from the monkey bars when a little one is walking nearby. He recognizes that he is one, not the only one.
- Understand the Rules Before You Join In. The handball game will be more fun and more successful if my son knows before he starts that “babies” aren’t allowed or that “blocks” mean you’re out. It’s an important rule of thumb to keep in mind for adults too.
- Be Aware and Respectful of Differences. It’s foolish to teach our children that we’re all the same. We’re not. Some children will be afraid of going high on a swing. Others will be afraid to climb to the top of the jungle gym. And that’s all okay. What’s important is to be understanding and respectful of those differences. So my son “goes easier” on a kindergartener playing handball with him than he will on a fellow third-grader.
- Treat Others As You’d Like To Be Treated. It’s probably the best rule of thumb for all areas of life. It means not always saying what’s in your mind; no one really wants to hear that he/she isn’t a good thrower, for example. My son and I have spoken about this on many occasions, and even though we can’t control how others will play or behave, he knows that he’s done his part to be a fair playmate.
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