It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Indoor play on rainy days

We have had a lot of rain this summer. A LOT, lot, lot of rain. Days and days of drizzle, downpour, and damp. We discovered last week that there’s a leak in the attic. The roof repair that we’d hoped to put off till next year has probably become this year’s project.


Since it’s inevitable that there is at least one child in the crew who is not appropriately attired for puddle-jumping, we end up spending a lot of time indoors on deluge days. Indoor time means more circle time, more organized play, and more crafts.

I do not generally ‘do’ organized play. To my mind, ‘organized’ and ‘play’ are, when in the control of an adult, antonyms. Opposites. Child-directed play has, I assume, some sort of inner order, an organic flow that makes sense to its participants. It may confuse/amuse the heck out of any adult watching, but then, it’s not for/about the adults, is it?

Children play. Adults play, too, but not like children. And I will be entirely honest with you, here. Those of you who imagine Mary’s day to be one long happy round of skipping, playing, dancing, playing, laughing, playing, singing, playing, holding hands, playing …


The kids play. I laugh, sing, feed, clean, change, organize, nurture, discipline, negotiate, explain, guide, direct, scold, smile, redirect, tease (kindly), observe, analyze, strategize … lather, rinse, repeat.

I do not play, because (brace yourselves) … Playing? All day every day? I’d go out of my mind with boredom. Out of my mind.

But on rainy days, on continuous long streams of rainy days, I do organize the play. This is sheerest self-defense. Toddlers caged indoor for hours at a stretch, never mind entire days, become restive. Their endless, boundless, ceaseless, ever-ready energy is constrained, restrained, oppressed by the four walls, by the furniture, by the other bodies in the same space.

Quick! Must defuse the five ticking time-bombs in my home!

So, that odd, adult oxymoron, “organized play”.

I have games that involve lots of physical movement. We jump, we slither, we fly like birds and like butterflies and like planes. We are popcorn, we are fire engines, we are sleeping bunnies and roaring tigers. We make obstacle courses, under the bench, along the bench, jump off the padded footstool. We crank the music and dance.

This is, of course, the Royal We. Mary does not do this stuff. Mary is no longer 24. Nor even 34. Nor even … well, you take my point. Suffice it to say: Mary organizes and facilitates. The children do the leaping and crawling and slithering. Mary does dance and sing, though.

The thing about playing with children (this most particularly if you have more than one) is that they play together. Me? I only have to do the bits I enjoy. I like dancing, I like singing, so I dance and sing. Jumping? Not so much. The tots have never seen Mary jump, and this is a Good Thing. (If Mary did not write such a family-friendly blog, Mary would be making decidedly earthy comments about the relationship between jumping, gravity, larger-cup bras and certain body parts.)

Problem with all these lively games is that they are also LOUD. Though we have negotiated this drizzly season with the walls of the house still upright and no broken furniture or even children, my ears, they are not so happy. The children get clautrophobic because of the lack of open space for running. I get claustrophobic because of the omnipresent, oppressive, inescapable noise, noise, noise, noise.

Bring on the sun!

July 7, 2008 - Posted by | health and safety, the dark side | ,


  1. Do you find that children become quite boisterous and unsettled in windy weather?

    Yes, when they first arrive, and then when we go out in it. If we’re inside with the windows shut, the boisterousness usually recedes in half an hour or so. But I love the wind, so we generally go out and get rowdy!

    Comment by Z | July 7, 2008 | Reply

  2. Yeah, I do love how on a sunny day, you can sit outside, throw a bucket of chalk and a couple of bicycles and such on the sidewalk, and let them entertain themselves. Inside? Then it’s about playdough and games and things that involve me more of the time, because independent play only goes on for some 30-40 minutes, usually.

    Too sadly true. However, the forecast for the next few days is sun, sun, sun!!!

    Comment by kittenpie | July 7, 2008 | Reply

  3. hope you get your sun soon, Mary!

    They tell me it’s coming! I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 🙂

    Comment by Suzi | July 7, 2008 | Reply

  4. I lament only having one child because I surely wish my tot had a playmate (we’re praying to remedy this problem…). He just LOVES to play with other kids, and I always just can’t believe how wonderful it is when he’s actually playing with a friend for hours on end. And I always find myself avoiding actually playing with him at home. We do lots of fun things, especially WORK, but playing is so not my thing. I’m relieved to know I’m not alone in this sentiment.

    You’re not. I think there are lots of parents out there — mothers, particularly — who feel this way, but don’t let on, because they feel guilty. They think that part of being a good mother is finding whatever their child does endlessly fascinating, and playing! Playing all day!

    Play is the child’s business. It’s how they experience the world. It’s how they sort things out. And I do love watching them using their play to figure stuff out. But it’s their job, not mine. In fact, when a parent gets involved with the play, the style of play changes, and not always in a good way. If you consider it this way: their play is one of the few areas in their lives that they get to be in control. Do they need a parent in their, directing that, too?

    The best way to play with your child is to let the child take the lead; your role is merely to observe and comment on what the child is doing, and do as you’re directed. If you do this for 20 – 60 minutes a day (I think that was it) you have taken major steps to building self-esteem and solid relationships. (There was a study done on that. I’ll have to hunt it up.)

    Comment by rosie_kate | July 7, 2008 | Reply

  5. This post fills me with relief. I was feeling guilty about not being hands-on enough.

    I think if you’re warm, loving, respectful and responsive, you are doing a fine job. None of those requires hours and hours of on-the-floor playing.

    Comment by Kat | July 7, 2008 | Reply

  6. It’s good to know there are other people out there that don’t want to play for hours on end with their children. I love watching Jeffrey play. The intense concentration, the joy, the frustration… they’re all very interesting to watch him work through. I try and play when he requests it from me, but I’m more of the come read a book sort of mom than getting down on the floor.

    Comment by Dani | July 8, 2008 | Reply

  7. Hi Mary,

    I have been lurking here for months and I really must now come out ot the… lurkness.

    I found you when I went in search of support while I was suffering daycare burnout. I was ready to quit my job in childcare and join an ashram or something (well I do have a seven year old darling child of my own, so I wasn’t really going to go THAT far) But I really must say, after almost 20 years in the field, I was about to hang up my paint smock (if I actually wore one… all my clothes have a blue or orange paint stain on them somewhere!) Anyways, I have found solace and laughter in your blog and have shared many of your stories with co-workers. I have still decided that it is time to remove myself from the world of all things preschool, however I do so with a much lighter heart and have rediscovered the joy in working with children thanks in part to viewing it through your eyes.

    I too have little patience for playing although, like you I really do enjoy singing and dancing… I find that it amuses the children to watch Carrie be silly and also creates a comfort bond between us. And well, playing with my daughter is a challenge , because i never seem to “play the right way”! So we more or less stick to singing dancing painting and reading type activities, plus, she’s getting pretty good at scrabble!!

    Comment by carrie | July 8, 2008 | Reply

  8. This is for You…*raising my koolaid glass to all the educators, teachers, caregivers out there*

    Disclaimer: I seem to be caught up in long titles tonight. I also don’t mean to sound like I know everything and I am putting Mary Poppins down because, who in their right mind would ever do such a thing? You must read the entire post to “get it”.

    Disclaimer: Thoughts to myself are in red, thoughts to help explain myself to you are in blue, the rest is just bullshit I guess.

    Holy Cow! I get to explain Organized Play to you, you…Mary Poppins…I get to tell you a story. Why? Because I’m not playing all freakin’ day either.

    If you remember, I own a daycare and in my business, I don’t get educated teachers, I get young little teenyboppers or old farts, both of which think they know it all. And, what they think is that they have to play all day. Oh Hells no I cry.

    That’s where knowing how to conduct organized play (yes, I’m educated in playing what with a degree in physical education and all, I know how to “play” when you have 60 five year olds in a gym for 30 minutes and you are suppose to teach them how to play, get fit, enjoy fitness, blah blah blah).

    This is what is covered in my first staff meeting with new employees, ok, all my staff meetings start or end with this but they never seem to grasp the concept the first time it is explained to them. New-to-caregiving-in-daycare-people are so miserably confused into thinking they are suppose to play all day. I may make this into a post when I’m done, hope you don’t mind?

    The rest is on my blog, I didn’t want to take up all of Mary’s comment space with one comment.

    Comment by Jerri Ann | July 9, 2008 | Reply

  9. I’m so glad that playing isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of childcare! My wife is pregnant with our first child, and while she has worked with children & young people all her life, I am not really the “playing” type (although I have been known to skip). It’s such a relief to know that I can still be useful to my child without having to make Play-Doh castles….

    The Broken Man

    Comment by The Broken Man | July 16, 2008 | Reply

  10. […] these are toddlers, and toddlers need to burn off steam. So we will play popcorn and sleeping bunnies. We will build an obstacle course and let them climb […]

    Pingback by Cold. Cold, cold, cold « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | January 23, 2013 | Reply

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