Yesterday my parents visited and the Kid took them outside for fighting lessons. She taught them fencing, quarterstaff, and archery. They used wooden weapons–souvenir daggers from the Renaissance Faire and Medieval Times, a big stick, and a bow that KPD made for her a while ago. 

Being an athlete, Kid is pretty good at learning athletic skills. And being a nerd, she’s had a lot of exposure to battle scenes. So she did a great job teaching my parents to spin the staff and whack swords against one another. 

In the game they were playing, Kid was the teacher and she was preparing my parents for battle against some imaginary enemies of her own invention. She’s been battling the same group of bad-guys since kindergarten, if I remember correctly. So I can’t claim a direct line from Star Trek or Buffy or the Renaissance Faire. But she’s been working on her fighting skills for years, too, and I love that there is some authenticity when she pretends to fight.

I love that this is how the Kid chooses to spend her free time. She’s out there finding good training ground, and coming up with lesson plans, and planning a “talent show” so that KPD and I can see what my parents have learned. She is a kind teacher who makes sure that her students feel good about what they have done. She encourages and challenges them to move to the next level. In all these ways, she’s playing out her own experiences in school and in practice, she’s exploring what it means to be in charge, to be responsible for others, and to fight against danger. There is so much going on in this kind of play, and I’m glad that she has the time and space to explore these things. 

Of course, physically she’s working on balance and hand-eye coordination and strength and agility. And of course, she’s out there burning calories and using her brain. But she could work on most of those things at soccer practice or tennis lessons, too. What she can’t learn any other way is how her own brain works, what to do when there’s nothing to do, how to solve problems, and how to work with others. She’s also working on time management and negotiation when I tell her that dinner will be ready in 20 minutes and she asks if there can be a talent show after dinner. 

I guess my point here is that while it’s important to expose your kids to good source material, it’s also important to let them run with it a bit, in whatever way works for them, but in an unstructured way. It lets them build their imaginations, sense of self, and internal resources.