Not All Play Is Created Equal

When we were kids, most of our play was “open play” — a form of play which is primarily directed by the players. But for the most part, today’s play looks different than ours did, and our kids are worse off for it.

According to Tim Holliday, owner of Children’s World neighborhood toy store here in our hometown of Sarasota, open play means, “You take [a toy] out of the box, and it’s up to the child to figure out what to do with it.”  

Isn’t that what you did you when you were a kid? You probably had some kind of dolls or action figures, and you made up all kinds of crazy situations for them to act out. Or maybe you lined up your stuffed animals and played “school.” Or maybe you had a play kitchen that you turned into a diner and served gourmet playdough creations to all of your friends.

That’s open play, and it requires that you bring your personality and your creativity to the table. But it seems that nowadays, play isn’t so much about discovery and imagination as it used to be. A lot of it’s just amusement, and for the most part, the “player” is passive.

But what if instead of amusing our kids, we allowed them to become bored? What if we actually encouraged them to become bored? And then, from that place of boredom, where no one and nothing is offering to amuse them, we introduced our kids to some open play toys?

Play Is a Big Deal

So what’s the big deal? What’s so important about how our kids play?

It turns out, a lot of their development hinges on the kind of play kids engage in.

The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) shared the official position of the American Academy of Pediatrics on the importance of play: “Free and unstructured play is healthy—in fact, essential—for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient,” stated the Academy in a press release.

Child development specialists agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics. Jerome Singer, Ph.D., Professor of Child Studies Emeritus at Yale University and a leading play researcher says, “Play can miniaturize a part of the complex world children experience, reduce it to understandable dimensions, manipulate it and help them understand how it works.”

Singer goes on to say,  “The activities that are the easiest, cheapest and most fun to do, such as singing, playing games, reading, storytelling and just talking and listening are also the best for child development.”  

That’s open play!

We are big proponents of academic success and striving for excellence in extracurricular activities, but at the end of the day,  if your future adult lacks self-confidence, resiliency, coping mechanisms, stress management and self-regulation, what good will his high grades and Football MVP awards do?

Our kids need to be confident in themselves and know what they stand for. These character traits are learned, in part, through experiences like open play.

Imaginative vs. Passive Play

Imaginative play helps develop creativity and problem solving skills. Kids have to create their own characters, scenarios, use social skills, props, think through their actions, work through problems and figure out end results. They are practicing for adulthood while at play.

It is during these open play opportunities that our kids are learning important skills, such as sharing, taking turns, negotiating, following rules, solving conflicts, empathy, compassion, self-control, working with others and even how to host guests. Bottom line, imaginative play builds social skills and helps develops emotional health, something a video game and TV cannot do.

On the flip side, passive play hinders creativity by dictating how the toy is to be used. It leaves no room for thinking outside of the box or problem solving. Passive play usually says, “Check your brain at the door. It’s not needed here.”

So when you’re looking for a toy for your kid, ask “What will this allow my child to do?” and not “What can this toy do?”

Not only is an open play toy more likely to stimulate your child’s development, but it can spare your wallet too! Have you ever spent big bucks for the trendy toy you thought your child would fall in love with (or maybe the one he had relentlessly begged for), only to find it abandoned a few days later when the hype wore off? Or how about a Christmas or birthday where your little one had more fun with the packaging than with the toy itself?

Older Kids

Play may seem childish to older kids, but truth be told, we all want to play to some degree. So, for our kiddos that seem to think that play is beneath them, here are some things to encourage them to do:

  • Cooking or baking

  • Real carpentry or parts of the process with adult supervision

  • Going to a second hand store, buying a small appliance, taking it apart and putting it back together

  • Sports that require team work or learning a new skill

  • Learning a new outdoor activity

  • Bicycling, roller skating, swimming, climbing, skateboarding

  • Gardening and landscaping

  • Learning a new musical instrument

  • Writing and illustrating books

  • Collecting objects

  • Card games and board games

  • All kinds of games with rules

Not only will they be getting a health benefit from doing some of these activities, but they will be learning new skills and feel a sense of accomplishment, which in turn builds self confidence. And who doesn’t want more of that for our kids?

In our world of screen overload, parents have a responsibility to be purposeful and create an environment that cultivates open play.  So, give your child the freedom, space, materials and time to be bored and get creative.

Come Visit Us

If you’re interested in learning more about open play and how to choose great toys for your kids, tune into this Saturday’s episode of Parenting on Purpose with Jenni and Jody at 10AM (EST). We are broadcasting LIVE from our favorite neighborhood toy store. If you’re local to Sarasota, stop in and visit us at Children’s World (4525 Bee Ridge Rd.).  We’d love to chat with you on air about your open play experiences!

You can also listen live on 1220AM or 106.9FM or 98.9FM. If you’re not local, just go to the WSRQ website and listen to the streaming broadcast or download the mobile app and listen on the go (they use Tune In Radio for that).


Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody are Christian, homeschooling moms with ten kids between them (ages 1 to 30), including one on the autism spectrum, plus one baby grandchild. Together they host a weekly syndicated parenting radio show, write a weekly newspaper column, freelance for a variety of publications, teach parenting and homeschooling workshops and seminars, speak at conventions and conferences and coach individual families. They are passionate about encouraging and equipping families to Parent On Purpose (POP) with the end result in mind.

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THE Best Potty Training Method

After having potty trained my first five kids, I had decided that potty training was surely the armpit of parenting. But all that changed with my sixth.

My oldest is autistic. That, coupled with no prior experience, made for potty training hell.

My second was born shortly after my first, and I spent so much time trying to figure out what my firstborn needed and become an expert in his disability and keep him from hurting her that potty training was not on my radar. She wasn’t trained until she was three.

When I used the 3 day potty training method to have my third potty trained before 2 1/2, I thought I was superwoman, but the whole experience was still tenuous, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull if off again. Of course, I did. Our fourth and fifth were also potty trained around 2 1/2, and each time, it felt like we were playing a guessing a game and that at some elusive point in the game, we’d guessed right and they began to put their pee and poop in the potty.

However, what was successful by day didn’t always translate to night. A few of those first five were longterm bed wetters.

With our sixth child, we learned about Elimination Communication, and I began following one blog in particular. It was written by Andrea Olson of (formerly of EC Simplified). When my son was a year and a half, Andrea wrote about her son’s transition to full-time potty training, and she linked to the method she was using.

Who knew that clicking on that link would change my life? Well…at least this part of my life. That day I downloaded Oh Crap! Potty Training, and since then my whole outlook on potty training has radically changed.

Now, for those of you who are planning to do as I did, and promptly download this game changing book, let me warn you…the author Jamie Glowacki is a straight shooter, no-nonsense (albeit hilarious) writer with a great fondness for 4-letter words. If that offends you, I strongly urge you to push past it and make bleeping sounds in your mind when your eyes fall upon one of them. Her perspective on this topic is so profound and her method is so effective, that is well worth overlooking some bad words. And it’s is a quick read. So keep the good; toss the bad words, and be enlightened.

I used the Oh Crap! method with our sixth child, and not only was he potty trained at 21 months (and in a just a few days!), but her method taught me how to prevent the whole bed wetting thing. So now, as Matty Jay nears the 2 1/2 year mark, he’s a potty champion who sleeps in his own little bed, in his own room and wakes up dry in the morning (on most days)!

I kept a potty training blog diary, so you can see how it all worked. Have a look, and be sure to tune in to our radio show TODAY at 10:00AM on WSRQ Radio. We’re going to interview Jamie Glowacki and talk more about the Oh Crap! Potty Training method.

Local listeners can find us on 1220AM or 106.9Fm or 98.9FM. Out of town listeners can go to the WSRQ Website and listen live, streaming or get instructions on how to download the mobile app and listen on the go.

And if, by chance you miss it, we will post the podcast here on our website sometime after Monday night.

Potty Training Diaries

Potty Training Diaries — Day 1-ish

Potty Training Diaries — Day 2

Potty Training Diaries — Day 3

Potty Training Diaries — Day 4

Potty Training Diaries — Days 5-7

Potty Training Diaries Update — Have Potty Will Travel


Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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I Want a Do Over!

Sadly enough, when I was growing up my mom told stories of how she and my dad barely had enough money to feed and diaper me. She reminisces about destitute times of eating potatoes for days on end and washing my cloth diapers in the tub, sink or whatever was available to clean my butt covers and then hanging them to dry all over their one-room apartment. I would laugh and think, “Wow! We must have been really poor if we had to use cloth diapers.”

The truth is my mom had it right! Even though at the time it was all being done out of necessity, her only option was to take the natural route in almost everything she did. She fed me table food, carried me everywhere, had me sleep with her and didn’t put chemicals on my behind.

I started this post with the word “sadly.” The sad part in all of this is that during that era, all of those things were looked down upon. Only women with no money handled their babies this way.

Isn’t it sad that the cultural norm in our society says that doing something natural (the way God intended it) is basically low class?


When I had my first baby I was nineteen years old. I knew NOTHING! But, my mother-in-law had FIVE children. To me, she knew EVERYTHING and was clearly experienced. Now, let’s remember, this was before the days of the internet, and I lived out in the country in a very small town where people didn’t really educate themselves about better ways to parent. They just did what their moms did.

I was schooled in the cheap way to formula feed your baby. Yep, my sweet little one enjoyed whole cow’s milk with Karo syrup and a splash of vitamins. I was instructed to NEVER let my baby sleep with me because it would cause him to be insecure and clingy.

And how about this one?

“LET THAT BABY CRY! Don’t you be pickin’ up that baby at every scream. He needs some tough love. He’ll sleep through the night if you slap some cereal down his throat and let him cry himself to sleep.”

Now, in light of all the new information I have, it hurts to even type those words.

My son Chase had cereal at three weeks old (this was 26 years ago, mind you). I’m lucky this poor kid lived through it all. Well, he did live through it, but we paid in spades with allergies.

I felt horrible. It was so hard to listen to him cry himself to sleep. So much so that I cried every time it happened. Why didn’t I just listen to my instincts? Oh, that’s right, I was inexperienced.

I can remember long hard nights of just wanting to nurse him on my side and fall back to sleep. I was told I could smother him, and it was simply unhealthy. I remember fighting diaper rash on a daily basis. No one told me that cloth diapering pretty much solves the diaper rash crisis. UGH!

All I wanted to do was hold this precious little life and smooch him for days on end. I didn’t want him to lay and cry. I wanted to hold him everywhere I went. I’m fairly certain that’s what my mom did considering that car seats (the ones we use as baby carriers with handles) didn’t even exist when I was an infant. Moms used to lay their babies in the seats next to them, no straps. (Okay, so some progress is good!)

How much easier would it have been for me to “wear” Chase than to lug him around in that heavy, clunky infant seat?

Oh, and I was told, “Don’t scrub your floors or do any type of manual labor – your milk will dry up.” What the heck?!

Then came potty training. It was so disgusting to me that my little ones pooped and peed on themselves. Okay, I’m a bit of a poop-phobe. The idea of poop touching anything is gross to me, including your own tushy.

“Just give him an M&M everytime he goes on the potty,” I was told. What? I was not into bribing my kid and feeding him unnecessary sugar (but that’s a whole other story). So, when I first heard about Elimination Communication, it made total sense to me. Of course it’s not natural to poop in your pants then sit in it and squish it all around until someone decides they’re ready to stop what they’re doing and change you! Does that sound comfortable to you? NO! It makes total sense that there is a particular cry when a baby needs to poop, and we need to learn that cue and how to communicate with our babies.

I must have been the dopiest mom ever and completely insecure in being a mom. I DID know what my baby needed. I DID know what to do, but I allowed all the voices around me to take over, first with Chase and then with my two girls.

My biggest heart’s cry for moms of babies is to know that YOU HAVE A VOICE! Listen to your instincts. Don’t question yourself. It’s okay to ask questions, seek council, do research, but be sure YOU have the final say. And ya know what? If you make a mistake, big deal – you made a mistake. You and your baby will live through it. I promise. I’m proof of that.

Do I want a do over? Absolutely! Do I beat myself up over it? No way! Reason being, my experiences now allow me to encourage moms to have a voice.

Oh, and my other regret . . . NOT HAVING MORE BABIES!! (but that’s a subject for a different post)

If you’re interested in learning more about Elimination Communication and how to potty train without M & Ms, tune into this Saturday’s episode of Parenting on Purpose with Jenni and Jody at 10AM (EDT). If you’re local to Sarasota, you can listen live on 1220AM or 106.9FM or 98.9FM. If you’re not local, just go to the WSRQ website and listen to the streaming broadcast or download the mobile app and listen on the go (they use Tune In Radio for that).

So…anyone else want a do over? Or is it just me?



Jody Hagaman

Jody Hagaman and her husband Tony have three kids, ages 18 to 30 and one precious baby grandchild. Jody’s story of how her son asked to be homeschooled has inspired
tens of thousands of families around the nation. A true homeschooling success story, that son is now an attorney in New Hampshire and is the New England Regional Director of The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan
organization dedicated to advocating responsible fiscal policy.

As a community leader, Jody has served on the board of directors of many local non-profit organizations. Her work experience as a corrections officer on a crisis intervention team inspired her to make a difference in the lives of the next generation.

She and Jenni co-host a weekly radio show, write a syndicated weekly column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about living on purpose with excellence and raising kids with the end result in mind.

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