Jennifer Goran/Voices | Encourage kids to make their own fun

Jennifer Goran/Voices | Encourage kids to make their own fun


Seldom does a cartoon on the Opinions page affect me like the one that was printed in The News-Gazette on July 20.

No, it had nothing to do with our president. Or our governor. Or with tariffs, taxes or terrorism. It was simply a dad heading up his family, all in line, as he repeated, "I said, 'Are we all packed and ready for some quality family time on our summer vacation?'"

The drawing illustrated all family members packed, ready to go ... and busy on their cellphones.

All except for the little girl at the end. She just had a ball to play with. And a tear dripping down her cheek.

Perhaps she was crying because she was too little to have her own cellphone? (I fear that could actually be the perceived reason of many readers, especially if they shared the cartoon with their younger, deprived children.)

No, we all know it's because the little girl doesn't have anyone who will quiet their devices long enough to play ball with her. We all know that. So what are we actually doing about it?

As a retired creative dramatics specialist, this cartoon hurts my heart. And yes, I shed a tear. I know firsthand the damage that is being done to the development of the precious imaginations, creativity and problem-solving skills of our children.

I'm not saying using the latest technology doesn't have value — it does. I'm simply urging those of us who are involved with shaping and molding these precious young minds to continue to also guide our children to creative activities that bring pure joy into their lives.

In a March 1994 issue of Focus on the Family, I had an article published entitled "Let Them Play!" My children are all grown and have children of their own. As I now strive to incorporate these same practices with my grandchildren, I felt inspired to once again share them with a reading audience. I find it amazing that the article still stands on its own.

— Encourage their imagination: Let kids do what kids do best — create their own play. Resist the urge to schedule their play by making constant suggestions on what to do next. Let them figure it out sometimes, since this encourages problem-solving skills. And don't be afraid of the word "bored." Boredom often forces kids to reflect, evaluate and fill the empty spaces in their lives by creating things to do.

Provide creative materials: I have a "creative box" filled with colored and plain paper, glue and scissors, markers, stickers, colored pencils, crayons and various odds and ends. Children find the concept of creating something out of "nothing" inspirational.

— Blankets, boxes and tables: Remember making a tent by tossing a blanket over the dining room table? Creating box mazes?

— Nature: Encourage your children to collect something. Nature deposits numerous fascinating things at our doorstep, including rocks, feathers, shells and bugs. At the moment, we are raising black swallowtail butterflies and learning about Queen Anne's Lace in the process.

— Make exercise fun: Whether it's improvising movements to some of their favorite music or participating in group sports, if your children engage in physical activity from their early childhood, they are more likely to enjoy good health as they grow. For three weeks after the summer Olympics, my sons conducted neighborhood triathlons and track competitions. What did they use? Their imaginations and a few friends.

— Suggest a business: We had vegetable stands, garage sales and neighborhood circuses. When my boys were growing up, baseball cards became the main vehicle through which they learned the value of money, the art of negotiating and the skills needed to keep these items in "mint" condition.

— Think before you buy: One question I always ask myself when purchasing toys is, can kids do more than one thing with this? My sons' (and now grandchildren's), favorite toys included Legos, wooden and cardboard blocks and dress-up clothes.

— Play with them: What did you enjoy when you were a child? Play it with them. Not only will you enjoy reliving highlights from your own childhood, but also you'll be creating fond memories with your youngsters.

We are the guides to whom our children look for information, support, love and direction. All of us have creative abilities. It's up to us to encourage our children to discover and use those joyous gifts.

Jennifer Goran lives in Champaign.