Summer vacation means different things to different families. For some, it is a time to finally take a break from the daily routine of waking up before sunrise, rushing to get the kids ready for school, and hoping to beat the traffic. For others, it is a time to go on out-of-town trips with the kids, a “family tradition” of sorts. For others, though, it may also be a time when the kids are still busy but this time with summer enrichment classes— sports, academics, dance, theater, cooking… the list can often seem endless!
In our family, though, since we homeschool and lean more towards year-round homeschooling, our kids don’t really go on “vacation” during summer. But we still try to have fun, just like any other day! This is because I believe in the importance of play. And I’m sure I’m not the only parent who does.
However, we all know that there is often a tendency to pack our kids’ schedules with activities—even during summer, when they should probably be taking more time to rest. So how does one define balance? Is summer a time to “play” or rest, or both? We decided to get some valuable insights from Sigrid Sabarre Perez, a devoted wife and mother to eight children, a child and play advocate, and a certified playworker.
What does ‘play’ really mean anyway?
Before anything else though, let’s take a look at play and what being a playworker entails, so we can see where Sigrid is coming from.
“As a playworker, our primary concern is to support all children and young people in the creation of a space in which they can play. Just to lay it down, for us playworkers, we define play as a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons. This definition is from the Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group,” Sigrid shares.
According to her, carrying such an attitude towards play means being trained to have the mindset that “the play process takes precedence and playworkers act as advocates for play when engaging with adult-led agendas.”
“An example for this is that of play in the sphere of education. An adult-led agenda here may ‘use’ play as means to achieve an educative end—that of educating the child with concepts but done in an environment of play. As playworkers, our primary concern is to guard against that and allow the child to discover his or her own learning within the play context,” she continues. “We do not have to introduce any other agenda as the play process takes place because we believe children are equipped to decide for themselves the direction they wish to go. That in itself is already learning.
“In order to carry this out, we had to undergo a certification process from a UK play organization called Common Threads UK whom we flew to the Philippines. In that training, we had to dig deep into our own understanding of play and remove all our preconceived notions about what play should be and really adopt a mentality of play for play itself,” Sigrid says.
Sigrid also shares that she was actually an early childhood educator for many years, but apart from the understanding of how children grow and learn, she says that she had to adapt to “the new way of thinking about play,” and remove herself from “the education-end of play.” “It was a really new way of understanding play,” she admits.
Summertime: Play or rest or both?
So when it comes to summer vacation, Sigrid has this to say about kids and play:
“As a playworker, I believe that children should have play every day. If we understand that play is a profound, biological process that is as important as eating and drinking, then it has to necessarily be included in the child’s daily activities/schedule. Summer is a time of the year that simply allows children to have more of that because there are no fixed and regimented schedules.”
As a mother of eight kids herself, Sigrid adds that she personally believes there should be a “balance of activities” for children during summer.
“Ample time for rest and play should be given, as well as incorporating sports or other programs. Actually, if we understand play in the playworkers’ definition, it may also be considered ‘rest’—because of the self-initiated and self-directed nature of it.”
Why play is important
Wishing to address the parents and other adults who will read this article, Sigrid would like to emphasize that play is important. “I would even say that it is almost as important as eating and drinking because it is a natural process of growth and development,” she shares. “Children naturally seek play. In fact, there have been many studies that prove that children who are deprived of play turn out to have serious lifelong psychological and mental health problems.”
Playing—as defined by play advocates and playworkers like Sigrid—allows the child to “have the time and space to develop their creativity and learn life skills that will help them later survive in this ever-complex world.”
“In play, children recreate real life situations, and are given the opportunity to re-enact situations and their possible solutions to it,” Sigrid explains. “This is most helpful when children are facing difficult circumstances.”
As a last note, Sigrid encourages parents to set a time every day for children to do free play activities—during summer and beyond.
“It doesn’t mean that just because children are not doing anything, that they are wasting their time,” she emphasizes. “Unknown to us, a child who is playing quietly or with his or her siblings are learning many things—they are learning more about themselves and the way the world works, and possibly equipping themselves with the tools and skills they will need later on in their adult years.”
So, now you and I know what our kids need this summer, and why they need it. We don’t even have to fill their days with activities—we can just let them be and play to their heart’s content! As American clinical psychologist and writer Kay Redfield Jamison once said, “Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.”