Little kids need to get out move and explore

The educational psychologist emphasized one concept, “Children kept excessively in playpens or cribs develop a barrier in their thinking. They do not see the options. They do not realize they can explore. Over use of play pens limits them mentally,” he said.

At that moment, I resolved to never use a playpen with my children. Of course, as one of five children born in the 1950s, I grew up in a home with an ever present playpen. My mom used it to keep the youngest babies and toddlers safe from older children tripping over them so she protested my resolution, “Well, I have seen plenty of children climb into the playpen to play.” I heard her, I just planned to avoid the mistake of excessively using the cage.

I could not help but think of that last week when my granddaughter wrote on Facebook, “This morning, trying to sleep in a little bit, I opened my door and put a gate across it so I could hear the kids but they couldn’t come in. Well, Tori, 3, moved the stool from the bathroom to the gate, climbed over and then told Westley, 1, ‘take my hand! I help you over.’”

There is no rest for the mother with an energetic, determined toddler. My son and his wife quickly realized that the day their toddler used the kitchen gate as a ladder. Grinning widely, she teetered at the top before descending into the forbidden kitchen.

Little kids exude energy. At my grandson Henry’s fifth birthday, we only had to supervise three extra boys at the Ninja themed party. That sufficed to keep all adults busy. The moment the curly topped guest walked into the house he spotted a plastic gun that shoots soft disks. He snagged it from the floor and stuffed it into the back of his sweat pants. A couple minutes later, I saw him returning from the ‘off limits’ bedroom with an arsenal of plastic guns stuffed in his britches. We took the toy guns and ushered everyone to the table to eat. Curly Top did not wait or ask to be served. He walked across the room and grabbed food until someone escorted him back to the table to sit.

Keeping seven children sitting lasted barely long enough for them to eat. Then Henry, wearing a black Ninja coat, grabbed a Styrofoam sword, bounced back and forth and waved the sword as he challenged one after another, “Come on, let’s fight.” A whack of the sword felt like a fly landing. Still in his imaginary world it was solid gold.

He was a Ninja. He could tackle the biggest of them. He had fighting to do. He did not have time to sit. Not on his birthday.

Sitting and running both have their time. My friend Peggy, the oldest of three sisters, said she did not understand that. “The first year we all were in elementary, we had recess together. I told them to go over there by the wall and sit down. They did it, too. The teacher came out and asked why they were there. They explained I had told them to go sit there. The teacher came over to me and said, ‘This is recess. They are supposed to get out and move around. They are not supposed to sit down.’”

That teacher knew children perform better in school with time to play and explore outside the cage of the classroom. Which is why I was so determined not use playpens. Certainly, playpens have a use sometimes, but I don’t regret raising ‘free-range’ children.

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