Avital is a mother of five who has created an online world that inspires millions of parents around the world. Avital has taught parents from over 100 countries and from all walks of life how to create a family life they love. Combatting today's culture of anxiety, screen addiction and hypersensitivity - Avital offers a roadmap to guide parents who want to raise anti-fragile children.

403: Reclaim Play

Avital Schreiber Levy

Kids independent play time has dropped precipitously in the last 30 years and it’s hurting kids. Hunter talks to Avital Schreiber Levy, author of Reclaim Play about why that is and how we can reclaim the lost art of independent play. Picture yourself putting your feet up while your child plays without your involvement! We’ll give you concrete steps to help make that happen.

Reclaim Play - Avital Schreiber Levy [403]

Read the Transcript 🡮

*This is an auto-generated transcript*

[00:00:00] Avital Schreiber Levy: Bottom line is that kids are hardly playing at all these days. We've gone from hours a day to barely an hour a day.

[00:00:14] Hunter: You are listening to the Mindful Mama Podcast, episode number 403. Today we're talking about reclaiming play with Avital Schreiber Levy.

Welcome to the Mindful Mama podcast. Here it's about becoming a less irritable, more joyful parent. At Mindful Mama, we know that you cannot give what you do not have. And when you have calm and peace within, then you can give it to your children. I'm your host, hunter Clark Fields. I help smart, thoughtful parents stay calm so they can have strong, connected relationships with their children.

I've been practicing mindfulness for over 20 years. I'm the creator of Mindful Parenting, and I'm the author of the best selling book, raising Good Humans, A Mindful Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Reactive Parenting and raising Kind Confident Kids.

Welcome back. I am glad you're here. Welcome, welcome to the Mindful Mama podcast. That should not be the new jingle, that's for sure. But welcome, I'm so glad you're here. Listen, if you haven't yet done so, please make sure you're subscribed and please do me a favor and go over to Apple Podcast.

Leave us a rating or review if you. Enjoy the podcast if it helps you, because this is the most powerful thing you can do to help the podcast grow more. It just takes 30 seconds, and I hugely appreciate it. And in just a moment, I'm going to be sitting down with someone I am honored to call another person I'm honored to call a friend, Avital Schreiber Levy.

She's a mom of five who created an online world that inspired millions of parents around the world from over a hundred countries and walks of life to create a family life they love. And she works on combating today's culture of anxiety, screen addiction and hypersensitivity. And she offers a roadmap guide to parents who want to raise.

Anti-fragile children. We're gonna talk about her book Reclaim Play, which is about reclaiming independent play. And this is so important because Kids' Independent Play time has dropped precipitously in the last 30 years and it's hurting kids. We're gonna talk about why that is and how we can reclaim the lost art of independent play.

And honestly, dear friend, I invite you to picture yourself putting your feet up while your child plays without your involvement. This is our North Star we're going towards today, so we'll give you some concrete steps to make that happen. So join me at the table as I talk to Avital Schreiber Levy.

Avital, thank you so much for coming on the Mindful Mama podcast

[00:02:59] Avital Schreiber Levy: again, and it's such an honor and a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me. I'm

[00:03:04] Hunter: so glad you're here and I'm so excited to talk about play because I feel like it, it's so important. And I just thought, I think it would be interesting to start out with like kind of you.

And your childhood and like kind of what play was. I was thinking it might be interesting to talk about what play was like for either of us. Because for me, like my childhood, I had so much freedom and so much free play. I met my oldest friend when I was four years old, just like wandering around on my quiet street, like singing Annie songs.

And then I would just like, and I just went to their house and that was just fine, like everything was. And I had tons and tons of freedom to explore the neighborhood, to get around the town and all kinds of different things. And I feel like that I had so much imaginative play and I feel like that has maybe helped me in life.

But I, and I'm curious about, was it the same for you? Cuz you didn't, you grew up in Israel right? London. London, okay. That's why your accent is so fancy. Schmanzy.

[00:04:07] Avital Schreiber Levy: I grew up in London. We moved to Israel when I was just turning nine. So I, yeah, so I'm a little bit of a mishmash, but that's such a beautiful story.

I love that. I could just imagine little hunter singing Annie to herself and finding a friend and wondering up to their house. How gorgeous. Oh, I love that. Yeah, it's funny a lot of my earliest memories definitely involved this imaginary play. I loved dolls and barbies and Lego and stuffed animals and drawing and anything artistic.

I know we share that in common that we love. Creativity and artistic endeavor and singing and acting out. I love to plan shows and make a show and then sit all the adults down and force 'em to watch my show and, oh, that's so

[00:04:49] Hunter: perfect, Rio. That makes so much sense.

[00:04:54] Avital Schreiber Levy: Oh my God, yes. Yeah, so a lot of that in my childhood, and it's funny because I'm the youngest of six but.

We have quite big gaps. And so in, in some ways I was a bit of an only child because there weren't any kids my age. My, my closest sister is five years older than me and she found me the most annoying thing in the world and never played with me. And so I really played a lot alone. And one of the things I really remember is actually I.

How much my mom appreciated that. And how she used to praise me and say, that I was so good at entertaining myself and she could take me anywhere. She could take me wherever she needed to take me or whatever. Cuz she knew I could always entertain myself if I had a piece of paper and a pencil or if I.

Had a doll with me or whatever, I would be fine. Yeah, I think you actually and Hunter, you were the first person to ever ask me that question about my own childhood play, but it's just interesting to reflect on it for sure.

[00:05:44] Hunter: Yeah. The imaginative play, I feel like in so many ways, like I, I remember like mourning that when I grew out of it cuz it was like really, like in a lot of ways, like those are some of the best.

Years of your life to have this whole world that you can escape into and do whatever with my little ponies and and just like out in the backyard and running around with kids in the neighborhood and stuff like that. And I feel sad thinking about I feel sad thinking about kids these days, missing that, but that's a thing, right?

Like independent play has really decreased and there isn't there, there's like even research about this, right?

[00:06:24] Avital Schreiber Levy: Oh, there's a lot of evidence about that. Yeah. And there was a lot of different reasons for it, but the bottom line is that kids are hardly playing at all these days. We've gone from hours a day to barely an hour a day, if that.

So yeah, there's been a huge decrease and I'd love to go into some of the reasons, but it's really it's really a loss. It's really like a, I really call it a lost art, it's gone.

[00:06:48] Hunter: It really breaks my heart to think about that because I feel like that's like this. It's something that just builds this this sense of self, right?

And they, researchers talk about that. Like it builds a sense of, all those things like emotional regulation, self-awareness, all these things. But like, when I really think about it, like it really builds like this sense of knowing yourself. That's what I think of. Yeah.

[00:07:10] Avital Schreiber Levy: There are so many documented benefits, and we have longitudinal studies with this, and it's from really it's just crazy because if you could bottle up these results and put them in a pill, people would be handing this out to kids like candy.

It's things like academic success, things like emotional regulation and the ability to, exercise your prefrontal cortex and your executive functions. It's things like social and emotional skills, vocabulary, physical strength just core strength and vestibular and balance and so many, so many of just the physical health results that come from free and autonomous and self-directed play.

And then also I really just think of it like free therapy, because kids will naturally visit all of their. Most difficult topics, all of their traumas, all of their challenges, they'll go straight to whatever's hurting them in their play. And it will be very healing and therapeutic.

In fact, often much more effective than having a conversation around it. Instead going, and that's why we have things like play therapy because it's really like these subconscious, backdoor to our children's brains is through their imagination. And if you think about it, all mammals play, The longer the childhood, the more time for play, the more time for learning.

So the bigger the brain, the more complex the species that always correlates with the longer childhood. Like really intelligent species have long childhoods and chil and humans have the longest childhood. And that's because we need to learn a lot in order to succeed in, in our species and play equals learning.

Really, there's just so much to be gained from it. And I think one of the most exciting things about it is that it's all naturally wired into children, right? We don't it's one of these power struggle free areas. You don't need to coerce them to do it. You don't need to force them to do it. Like they're literally hardwired to do it.

And it's enjoyable and rewarding in and of itself in an intrinsic way. So I really think of it this as like a gift that Mother Nature gave us. Here, let me encode into your children. Exactly the type of urge and drive and passion for something that's going to benefit them in every realm of their lives for free.

Like how amazing is that?

[00:09:21] Hunter: Yeah. Yeah. I love that. I'm super into, like, when I am on social media, I love like the, like reels of little animals playing. I'm such a sucker for that. Like I saw this like little baby elephant, like playing in a, it was just like popping around and bouncing around and then baby elephant like play to the goose and it scared it baby elephant and baby elephant like fell over and then ran to Mama.

It was so cute. It was like, exactly. Humans do. It was so funny to see that in the elephant. I love that. So yes, we need this, right? Like we're hardwired to do it. Why is it decreasing? It doesn't make any sense. Like to me though what are the factors that are decreasing our kids'

[00:10:06] Avital Schreiber Levy: play? So I have an acronym for you.

I like to say that play was stolen, right? And Stolen is the acronym that describes where it's gone. And it's just had this very kind of stark decrease over the past, I'd say three decades. Really. So the s in stolen stands for safety, and that's the rise in. Perceived concern around children's safety, even when the realm of concern is over something that's actually not statistically a risk, like in most places in the US kidnapping is not a realistic risk.

Y your kid would have to stand out on the sidewalk for about 1,600 years for them to have a statistically significant chance of getting kidnapped. But when you p. Plaster milk cartons with faces of missing kids of the, three missing kids that do exist. Then parents start to feel like that's a reality that could be on my street at any moment.

And so they start limiting children's freedom. To Rome and explore and find their friends while singing Annie outside. And so safety doesn't just affect parents' willingness to allow children outside, say, let's say a nine-year-old being allowed to go over to a friend's house or to the library, or to the playground by themselves.

As Leno Eskenazi found out on her own skin, right when she let her nine year old ride the subway because he wanted to, and he was excited to, and he did so successfully, she was then labeled the worst mom in America. Which was the label she then wore proudly. But that's what happens when you fight back against those anxieties and get those fits.

So the cultural dictate is that you should give into anxiety and fear, and you should coddle and protect and overprotect to the point that children don't have any freedom. The thing is that it's not just about outside the house. It's also inside the house, right? We've sterilized our children's play play things.

They're all plastic, they're all rounded edges. They're all basically look the same and feel the same. We've made everything so safe and so protected, and we see this in the playgrounds where there are no longer any carousels. There are no longer anything really high to climb on or fast to slide down.

It becomes actually really boring at this point. And really children are also internalizing the message that they can't trust themselves and that every risk is too much risk. So that if, if you can't take any risk, you can't play right? Because it involves some kind of physical or emotional or intellectual risk to improvise and to try something and to push yourself and even a social risk.

And those risks have all been. Mitigated. We don't even let them take social li risks, like making a friend with a stranger in a park. Like it's gonna be, a pre predetermined adult directed activity. Soccer practice. Nothing against soccer, but it's always gonna be a adults directing the play and not the children.

So that's the s that's safety. And then the T is. Tech addiction. I think we all know enough about this, screens have really replaced and I'm not a technophobe. I think there's a lot to love about technology. We're using it right now. I think it's magical and I'm grateful for it.

And I think it has a place in childhood to a certain degree, but it's really a lot of my criticism towards screen usage is not just what happens on the screen, but what doesn't happen off of the screen. What it takes away from, and I think. Yes, you can still enjoy screens, but you do still need to move your body outside to explore the physical world, to touch different sensory inputs.

And so the thing is that we can't really compete, right? With that video game feeling, it's so stimulating. It's so exciting, it's so addictive that there's no real way that after that you go to wooden blocks, right? Like it's so boring.

[00:13:56] Hunter: Stay tuned for more Mindful Mama podcasts right after this break.

It's so boring. Yeah. And it's like a stimulant, right? Like we talked to Victoria Dunley about that. It's a stimulant. So your body, your child, you get all stimulated, all excited, but the body is not moving at all. So it's a stimulant, but the huge excess of energy, right? That is produced and then comes out in all these ways.


[00:14:22] Avital Schreiber Levy: That dopamine hit. Yeah. So that's the T. And then the O is the overachievement that we've got our children on, that kindergarten has become like resume building. And so we tend as parents in today's day and age, not to value activities that we can't see a grade on, a measurement for a trophy, for an accolade, for et cetera.

And play really is like that. It's intrinsically rewarding. There is no. Level that you reach, there is no certificate that you gain. And so people just tend not to value play in that competitive environment. And we know this, like we, we really know this from research that kindergartners are learning more and more earlier and earlier for longer and longer hours with more and more homework.

And with zero evidence to show that this improves their test scores later on or their academic success. So it's just an exercise in waste, I think. Because, we could have the argument if you were seeing some improvement in their academic skills, it's not even helping the more earlier is not actually improving.

Their studies, it's it might even be decreasing their success. And in fact, there is very clear correlation between hours spent in play and academic success later on. For example, Finland, where they only start academic studies at the age of seven plus. Really no formal academic instruction before the age of seven.

So no ABCs in kindergarten just play. And then they have the shortest school day with the longest recess and the longest summer holiday. And yet they're scoring much, some an or order of magnitude higher on international standardized tests. And Our theories are off. We have the evidence to show it.

And I think at this point, the overachievement really needs to shift. It's I'm all about achievement, but this just isn't the way to get there, in my opinion. That's

[00:16:11] Hunter: the o yes. I think, wait, I just wanna underscore this because I know, dear listener, you have a lot of anxiety by your kid. You want them to do well, you want them to achieve things in life, and academic success is super important.

But this is real. It's not just like a nice, airy fairy thing to talk about that we're like, oh, they should be having more free play and not be doing all these resume building things. It's actually real research proven, and that kids with more free play do better academically. So this is something that you can really take to your family, to your partner, to the people who are worried about this and.

Point out that there is real evidence for this and that even though you are in your culture or microculture, it may feel like there's a lot of pressure for that academics, fight back against it because your child will hopefully Thank you later.

[00:17:04] Avital Schreiber Levy: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you so much for saying that, hunter.

I so agree. I think the fight isn't, should we or should we not push kids to academic success? Let's just say. Okay. Say we should, let's just imagine that the answer is we should then the way to do that is actually to increase free. Unsupervised unstructured play in early childhood because there's direct correlation in longitudinal studies.

We've actually got studies over the course of decades where kids who play with blocks in kindergarten in a causational manner, improve their academic test scores in maths in high school. And the reason for this, we really can understand it's not just oh, There's some kind of correlation here.

The causation is that when kids are playing, they are exploring scientifically and in an embodied way, learning the laws of physics, the relational laws between things, volume, velocity, acceleration, size, textures. There are so many things that go into building a tower out of blocks, right? And if you're just doing that in a digital way, or if you're just doing that on a worksheet, right?

Two plus seven. You are not actually encoding the understanding of the physical world around you and of math rules, for example into your embodied experience. And so we can all align in the same direction and still say, this is a good, this is a good next step. This is a good idea.

[00:18:22] Hunter: Okay, so overachievement, let's like chill on the overachievement.

Cool. L. Stolen

[00:18:28] Avital Schreiber Levy: L stands for loneliness. And that really talks about our epidemic of isolation. I just wanna say to anyone listening, I have felt that sting, it's very tough. It's a very hard pill to swallow. We are not designed to parent in isolation and alone. Families are becoming smaller and smaller units and more and more isolated from their extended family, from lifelong friends, from a support network.

And that's really hard for us parents, and part of the reason that's hard is because. It puts a tremendous pressure on us to be our children's playmates to entertain them to answer their every need all the time, and to take the sole responsibility and the crushing responsibility of their safety and wellbeing on ourselves.

And if you imagine if you will, that we are visiting an indigenous people, and I document this pretty well in my book. There's a lot of. Examples of this where they're still living in a kind of hunter-gatherer village type environment. What you'll see is tremendous group responsibility for the kids and a lot of trust in the kids where the kids are really expected to be playing at the adult skills.

Okay? They're playing at things that they're learning for their adult environment like, okay. It could be dangerous things like making a fire or cooking or hunting or that kind of thing, but it's dispersed between the adults that they're all keeping an eye. It's not just one parent that's responsible.

We're all keeping an eye on all the kids. And if you observe from the outside, you might not even know whose kid belongs with which parent at that first moment because there's this kind of joint village atmosphere. And can you imagine how much less stressful it is? And how much less pressure?

I'm sure there are many other pressures like hunting for your food. But just in terms of the tremendous pressure that's put on the parent-child relationship when we're so lonely. Not every parent has that amazing goodness of fit with their kid, that they could just hang out with them 24 7 and be fine.

Like I think that's not exactly how we would decide,

[00:20:37] Hunter: yeah. I'd say that's probably a minority. There are some people who are built that way, but I certainly wasn't one. I was always looked at those, like preschool teachers and toddler teachers, and I was like, it's, yeah, the loneliness and the isolation is a huge.


[00:20:53] Avital Schreiber Levy: problem. Yes. I completely agree with you. And I have five children and I would not, I, I. Do so much better as a mother when I'm in community and they do so much be they behave better, they better regulated this kind of joint regulation that happens with others that we're close to when you're raising your children with others.

And for years when I moved to the states with my husband, it took us four years to find a family that became like family to us. We would just move thousands of miles away from our, family and friends. And when we found that it was life altering on a, like molecular level, because suddenly, I think just from a nervous system perspective, that's what we've evolved for.

We've evolved to be in community and I think then suddenly you see your kids go off happily and play and you trust them more and you are able to, commiserate and support and all of that good stuff. Yeah, loneliness is definitely a big contributor to the decline in play.

It's so huge.

[00:21:52] Hunter: So I live in a a weird intentional community there in the United States. It's like weird for us, but it's it was founded in 1901 as an artist colony for artists from New York. And there's a lot of you can kinda pretend you're in regular suburbia, but there's a lot of things there's some Saturday night dinners and there's different things, so people are actually really connected, like where I walk down the street, If I go for a walk in my community, I'm saying to hi or talking to five different people, like on a regular basis, which is very unusual in the United States, right?

Like it's super unusual and I really think that people don't, we're so removed from that experience that we don't really realize what we're missing. But this experience of like for my kid, like the kids in the neighborhood, they all know each other through swim team and things like that. And I think it could be.

I think they are like stuck in their houses on their tech addiction a little too much. Like I can imagine it was different at a different time, but still they have this sense of there is this sense of we have a community, like up and down my street. Like we can, we all hang out and, talk to each other and connect with each other in that.

It's that little bit of connection like that just, it makes such a huge difference to just Yeah, like what you're saying, like a nervous system, like an exhale feeling of go forth, get outta the house, you're fine. I think this is something that is so hard for us to. It's so hard for us to individually solve this problem.

It's hard to talk about because we don't, I don't have any solution for the listener, for this, except that hold it as a North Star. That's something you wanna aim towards, right?

[00:23:34] Avital Schreiber Levy: Yeah. Look, I'd say I, I have some solu a solution in the sense that, I guess it's what you just said, hold it as a new North Star, but really I think you can take it on as an active project.

I think. Other people are hungry for this too. And so reaching out, being vulnerable, saying, Hey, by the way, you can always knock on my door. Or Hey, do you wanna drop your kids off one day and I'll drop my kids off one day, et cetera. And just building up that relationship, when I found that friend, I actually, it was like I hit on her.

Like I, I had to strike up a conversation with someone who I didn't know. And you have to be brave. It's hard to do that, right? To walk up to a stranger and just say, Hey, how old are your kids? And get chatting. But I think it's worth that investment and. Relationships are never easy, but living in isolation is genuinely so much harder over the long haul.

And that's another very clearly, well-researched or well-documented thing, is that we see in the blue zones, those areas where there are lots of centurions cents, I think it's called. People who live past a hundred Centenarians. Centenarians, thank you. Like centurions? No, that's the Roen army.

I'm saying that Rob centenarians. All the

[00:24:43] Hunter: C are marching up and down up until their

[00:24:47] Avital Schreiber Levy: hundreds anyway. Yeah, we see them. And one of the, one of the key things is that they are living in community and close knit communities where people care for each other and take care of each other. And having lived without that for a few years and then building that up slowly from scratch, and now I've moved back to Israel so that we can be in back in the fold of our original tribe.

I would say that, It's something you can, it takes tremendous effort, but you can put forth that effort and it demands vulnerability. So being willing, let's say, to have people over when your house is less than perfect or, that type of thing, so that you can reach out and create that.

And I think one of the things I'll just say is that I personally think the burden of Parenting is too much to handle. Alone. So if you're a single parent, it's even more the case that you need to seek out these lifelong relationships. But even a couple, even two parents, it's very hard to build sanity and health and connection and all that stuff.

We need other people to bounce ideas off to see how it's done. To learn to gain perspective on ourselves. And one of the key things that I can say today, and Andrew, I'm curious if you've had this experience too. Living in that intentional community is one of the things I'm most grateful for. And one of the reasons we move back across the world is to provide my children with.

Additional mentors and role models, other adults who we respect, who we trust, who we think, look my child, here's another home. Here's another home. Here's how they do it. Here's how they do it. And we love these people and we respect these people. And when you are coming up against hard times or you've made a mistake, you can go to them for advice.

You can feel at home in this home. Because we are deeply connected and that gives me a certain sense of peace, right? If God forbid I die or if I'm not a very good, leader for my par for my children during a specific time in our lives, I know there are other adults who can step in and help and be there for them.

And I think that goes a long way when you're Parenting to not feel like you're the be all and end all for this kid,

[00:26:51] Hunter: yeah. I mean I'm not sure. I think they have that, those connections in the community, I'm not sure how deep they are. Like they'd feel like I can live in their home in the same way that in fact, I had with actually my oldest friend, I spent all my time at her house and they were like a second family to me.

But yeah, I'm not sure that they have the same experience. Cause I remember I used to go. Like at any age, except for the awkward age when she was a lot older than me and she was in her teen years. But I could always like just go show up at their house and I could be there and it could be a different place to be.

I'm not sure my kids have that, but they do have this experience of Maggie did her Eagle Scout project and she like worked with people in the community and she feels very comfortable like talking to all these different. Adults in the community feels fine. Just going and knocking on the door of our neighbor or hanging out, like our neighbors just had a baby and just hanging out and holding the baby.

And so there is that sense of interconnectedness, interwoven. I could see it could be deeper and I see that as the, some of the symptoms of all the things that. Create that loneliness today. But but yeah, it's the bit we have. I cherish it like enormously.

[00:28:02] Avital Schreiber Levy: Yeah. And I think even that even that is something that's quite rare for kids to have today.

Neighbors that they're happy to knock on their doors, neighbors that they even know, to be honest, right? Yeah.

[00:28:12] Hunter: Yeah. It's, the loneliness is is incredible. And yeah I think this is. Incentive for me, just having this conversation is so glad we're having this, we're going through these because, it can be incentive for all of us to make those awkward first steps, and to model that for our kids cuz they're really afraid of that.

Teens and adolescents are really afraid of that. Oh my God don't knock on the door. I have to talk to that person. You know what I mean? They're afraid of anything awkward cuz they just don't have to go. They're always, they can always escape to a phone in an awkward moment.

And so we need to, which we do too, right? So we need to model that for our kids and like make that a priority as best we

[00:28:56] Avital Schreiber Levy: can. Completely. And I'll just say one little anecdote. The friend that I made that became like a soul sister to me. The first time I came over she was just, she's just an incredible woman in, in all the ways.

But one of the ways is that she's an amazing hostess because she really makes you feel at home, in her home. And she didn't make any kind. I dunno how she did it, but that was always yu food. And it was always clean, but she wasn't stressed out. I still dunno how she did it. It's amazing. But one of the things was the first time I came over, my three-year-old peed on her floor like, Like within the first half an hour, had a potty accident.

Right on. Like she had this little tent and she did it. I think she peed in the tent and I was like, oh no, they're never inviting us back. This is awful. I was so embarrassed and so apologetic and she was just like, she just looked me in the eye and she goes, a, they're kids. And that was that. She's they're kids.

Of course they're gonna be accent of course. What You think? This is my first time seeing a potty accent. Get over it. It's fine. She just was not even having any of it. She was like, it's not a big deal. Let's move on. She really let me feel so at ease, like what's, and all kids and all messing and all noise and all you're welcome.

It works. And part of that was that she felt comfortable telling me when it wasn't a good time or when we needed to go home or when. She needed a favor, right? And so there's a lot of skills to develop to this, and I learned so much from her, and I continue to try to hone my skills in that regard because it's worthwhile.

It's very gratifying.

[00:30:20] Hunter: In the end, we could obviously have a whole conversation about this, but what is the E in stolen?

[00:30:26] Avital Schreiber Levy: So the E is about excess, and this is really about the fact that our homes have become increasingly cluttered over the past couple of decades. We've really collectively fallen prey to the message that more is more and that we can buy our way to happiness or to play through toys.

And children today have more toys than ever before. The toy industry in America, I think it's a 30 billion industry, if I'm getting that correct. It's a very big industry. It's very booming and a lot of parents are really getting the message that if you buy this, your child is gonna have the edge.

And if you buy this, it will keep them busy for hours. And if you buy this, they'll have their PhD before they're out of diapers. And it's just not true. Kids can play with a stick and a stone and make their own little toys. And tho those are often the toys that they play with for the longest and in the most engaged way.

It's called the IKEA effect. By the way, when someone builds something, they love it the most and they value it at a higher price. That's Dan Arielli research. So the idea that more is wrong, but it's not just incorrect, it's also very counterproductive. When children have too much stuff, and this also includes too much stuff in their schedule, but we've covered that in the overachievement.

But literally physically too much, too many toys is actually counterproductive because it's very distracting and it doesn't actually allow them the space and the minimalism and the clarity to sink into their imagination, which is the point of play. The point of play is not the toy. The toy doesn't equal the play.

It's just a tool. So if you think about anything that you use tools for, like cooking or doing your work, you need some tools. Sure. Yes, you need your computer, but if you come to your desk and you have seven computers, that doesn't make you do more work or better work or longer work. It just overwhelms you and it actually really distracts you from the work that you're doing.

And that's what we're doing to our kids. When we overload them with toys, we're overstimulating them and we're actually blocking the play.

[00:32:25] Hunter: Stay tuned for more Mindful Mama podcasts right after this break.

So we both know about Campaign. He came on the podcast like number 84 or something way back when, and I read Simplicity of Parenting when my daughter was two. And I like had this moment where I I decluttered her toys, I put a bunch of things like away in the closet and took away like 75% of the toys in her room.

And I remember walking home from school for with her and being super scared and just, oh my God, she's gonna freak out. She's highly sensitive. She's gonna explode the way she has for other things, and she loved it. She loved it. She played for two hours by herself as like a two-year-old playing in her room.

It, which is like unheard of at that point. Like she loved it so much and it really freed things up. And you just think about that. If you are. You feel overwhelmed with stuff like your kid feels overwhelmed with stuff. How much do they value that one toy in the middle of the giant pile of toys?

Like it's like too much. You just can't focus. Your brain's too scattered. And I've seen that again and again, like when I had less stuff out. Just clean, welcoming environment and all the cardboard boxes they could ever want they played for so long, especially on the screen free Sundays.

That was like always the major creative

[00:33:53] Avital Schreiber Levy: play day. Exactly. Exactly. Cuz then you're really creating that environment. I have heard and witnessed a variation on that story from so many people. I'm so scared that they're gonna be so mad. I remember decluttering someone's basement with her. She had more toys than I've ever seen.

I literally couldn't see the floor. We took bags and bags to donation and she was like, my kids are gonna be so mad. And they came in and the first thing they did was squeal and delight and say, you found my train set. Like suddenly they could see the train set, and this is a key thing.

It's such an easy thing to do is buy less cool, awesome. And and, donate the things that I'm being played with free it up. We know that kids focus works differently than adults Focus in that they absorb more. But they have less hierarchy, so they can't tell what's important and what isn't.

In other words, they could focus on a crack on the floor as much as, let's say, the table that's laid for dinner. Like they don't notice what the key focal point is in a room. So that's why I always advocate for kindergartens and that kind of thing to be a lot more simplified. It's very overwhelmed with all those posters on the wall.

All the art everywhere, all the primary colors that scream at you. Kids actually absorb all of that. They don't, they're not able to filter the way that we can. We can walk into that room and just read that one poster, but for them, their eyes are gonna be darting around everywhere. So you want your home.

I teach people to really use their home use design and interior design. Just arranging your space in a way that directs the type of play you'd like to see, right? That's why I teach people to really establish zones like a messy zone, an imagination zone, a movement zone because then you know what the purpose of this place is, you know what you're supposed to do.

Kids who come into a playground, for example, they're never confused about what they're supposed to do. This is a movement zone. The objects speak to that. So I encourage you to look at your home like you are a curator of a kid's play space, right? There shouldn't be too many things. They should be grouped according to category and according to the type of play that they, support.

And and you've gotta keep it appropriate to the quantity, an appropriate quantity to the amount of kids playing. If there's one child there, there shouldn't be. Millions of enough for an army, it should really be a little bit more simplified

[00:36:15] Hunter: or a lot more you have five kids, right?

Yeah. What does this look like in your house as far as reducing the excess and and also accounting for the range of ages?

[00:36:29] Avital Schreiber Levy: So we built up our toy library with our first two kids, and we don't really add much to it since like once in a while they'll be like, oh, okay, the Magna Tile Marvel run like that sounds great.

We'll add it to our collection, but we don't tend to add very much. And in terms of. The range of toys. So I tend to think that a lot of toys are really multi-aged. If you think about Lego, Lego goes with you from the age of say four all the way through to 12. Kids are gonna be playing with that.

So open-ended and creative and it upgrade, your ideas, upgrade. The toys stays the same. And the same is true for a set of dolls or certain board games or that kind of thing. A ball, every single age plays with a ball. So I really go for open-ended toys that are more about like a useful tool that anyone can play with at their level and that will grow with the child, if that makes sense.

[00:37:24] Hunter: I have to second Lego. Lego has to be like one of the best toys ever created. My oldest friend and I played hours and hours of Lego at her house when I would just walk over there and even, yeah, those open-ended things, I remember just thinking like I. Looking at this like Kim probably campaign's book.

And it was like, it had this like super crunchy granola idea to have play scarves and silks and I'm like that. It was like, what is my talking to do with that? That is so bananas. And then I got it. I was like, okay, I got, we got old scarves at Goodwill. I got some scarves. I put scarves in a basket.

Oh my God. Like the scarves are like the best, the number one. They were like, The number one toy, they could do anything with a scarf. It was just unbelievable what they did with scarves. It was

[00:38:15] Avital Schreiber Levy: like, I have the same, yeah. Yes, I have the same experience. I. I think Magnatiles and Lego are like my top toys.

And then scarves, we use them for dressing up and for dance shows and for Fords. Oh my gosh. They actually are getting I need a new set. Like they've got holes in them at this point. They've been played so hard,

[00:38:37] Hunter: yeah. Wounds For doctor and things like that. Yeah. Okay. So too much, too many toys.

We gotta simplify those toys. And one, a super easy way to, I really recommend just try just a toy purgatory is what I like to call it. Just somewhere where they're waiting to see us, they'll really go to goodwill, if you have that space and then if, if you're truly worried about your child freaking out over one specific toy, you can

[00:39:08] Avital Schreiber Levy: go dig it out.

Yes, and you can rotate it in on a rainy day when you need to keep them busy. It's like Christmas morning oh wow. And it's a new toy, they've seen it before, but they haven't seen it in a while. It's like it went stale and then you take it out of rotation and it gets new life.

So yeah, there are so many tips like that. And yeah, so that's the e, that's excess. And then should we do the last one? So the last one is about, it's called narration, and it's about our adult involvement and our. Guided, well-intentioned, but misguided advice to constantly narrate what our children are doing.

This is actually based on research that's, it's complex and it went back and forth around how much a child's vocabulary at the age of three or four influences their future success.

[00:39:55] Hunter: Like the 30,000 words or something like it was yeah. Dana Suskin.

[00:39:59] Avital Schreiber Levy: Yeah. The 30,000 Wild Gap.

Exactly. So there was like, different responses to that. One of the responses was to direct parents to talk at their child more so to describe everything that they're doing. And you'll see this type of advice from pediatricians and from teachers that you should constantly be talking to your children.

And whilst I think you should certainly have conversations with your children and read to them and play with them and develop their vocabulary when a child is playing independently, when a child is in play, they are into a state that is akin to flow. Or even to sleep, right? And I write about this in my book.

There's certain cycles that you actually have to go through in play in order to get to the really good deep stuff. Like in sleep, you start in this kind of light, searching space where they're not quite sure what to do. Bit of a loose end, a bit bored, and then they pick up on a challenge and they decide to take on that challenge, and then they sink their teeth into resolving that challenge before moving on to the next game.

Like sleep. If you disrupt that cycle, you're gonna get a grumpy kid. And eventually you're gonna get a kid who feels like it's not worth it to try and play because I keep getting interrupted. And I think that this advice has actually done a ton of damage in that regard, is that when children are in a state of flow, it's the Mihai concept of being in this time free inhibition, free state where you're not aware of your body, your tongue is sticking out cuz you're so focused you're not worried about what it looks like.

It's rewarding, it's challenging. And this is one of the mental states that is most. Highly linked with happiness and when you interrupt it, you're really stealing that juice, that goodness, that healing stuff, the learning stuff, all the goodies that we spoke about in the beginning.

And you are demotivating your child from ever sinking into that state again. And if you do it enough times, they just won't know how, cuz they'll never practice. And so my, I guess my number one advi, my number one piece of advice to parents are the number one mistake that parents make in this regard unwittingly is interrupting.

So parents will often come to me and say, my child never plays, my child doesn't play, they just don't have their imagination. They just always ask me for entertainment. And the truth is that, That's usually a taught behavior. But if you step back and stop entertaining and stop interrupting and stop commenting, oh, you're lifting up the blue block.

Oh, I like how you're playing. Stop the praising, stop the narration and just observe. Just reflect your step back. You'll notice that your child actually is playing, your child is moving their body, singing a song, picking up something and looking at it. And those are the early stages of play.

And if you. Whisper and tiptoe and stop interrupting. They will start to sink into the deeper stages. And so this narration goes to anything that is basically interrupting. I know sometimes we have to like, okay, it's dinnertime or whatever, but trying to respect that and to give them the space to really sink into the good, that deeper rejuvenating levels of play.

[00:42:59] Hunter: Oh wow. So this is great because yeah, I think parents wanna be, we wanna be so involved, we wanna be present for our kids and all these things. And we know our kids want our attention. But this is very different advice that you, I think is really important. And this is advice to back off.

Right to give your child space to not interrupt, to give them time by themselves. And I imagine like parents are gonna say, oh my God, if I do that, my child comes to me and says, I'm bored. I'm bored. So I know I had my line for what I said, when my kids are bored. What do you do?

[00:43:36] Avital Schreiber Levy: Oh, what are lie?

Now I have several things that I do. First of all, I'm okay with boredom, so I'm like, that's okay. I'll be like, it's okay to be bored. And I'll just leave it at that. I won't solve it for them. So I'm hitting the court ball back into their court figure it out buddy.

[00:43:51] Hunter: Nice. Yeah. Not my problem.

[00:43:54] Avital Schreiber Levy: Exactly. Exactly. You just become a non collaborator in that regard, and then sometimes I'll be like, okay there are plenty of. I'll be like, do you want me to get you down a game from the shelf that you ca you know, reach? Or I might prompt them with a couple of options you could do art or, you could go outside.

Just give them a couple of options if they're not thinking of something themselves. And sometimes I'll be like, I have piles of laundry that I need to fold and I'm cooking dinner. Would you like to help me? And I'm, I would love their help, but often they'll be like, no thanks. I'll find something else to do.

I'm all for collaborating on tours. It's not that I want them to get out of that, but I'm just saying there's always something to do around here. And if you can't think of something yourself, I can really put your hands to work. No problem. Yeah, but mostly I really think being bored is okay.

So when they say that to me, I'm just like, that's okay. You'll figure it out. You'll think of something. It's not my problem. And I wanna say, I know a lot of parents are like, oh, they might feel neglected. They might feel like, I don't love them. What? Aren't I supposed to play with them? And I just wanna say, I really feel personally that there are so many ways for me to show my children my love, right?

There are so many opportunities throughout the day to sit and have a meal with them to care, take them, right? You're wiping their butts and you're hugging them, and you're kissing their booboos, and you're getting them a Band-Aid, and you're fixing them a snack, and you're tucking them in, and you're driving them here and there, and you're bathing them, and you're talking to them, and you're listening.

So much that you're doing, and I personally feel that you can really take play off your to-do list. You can connect with your child through conversation, through physical touch, through eye contact, through bonding in a million ways. But I think that for the most part, unless you actually love playing, I'm trying to say this in the least harsh way I can, but I don't think it benefits our children when we begrudgingly sit down and play as another to do on our task list.

Play is supposed to be joyful and authentic and connected and genuine. And for me, sometimes I actually love playing. But it has to be at a very rare time when I don't have other things to do when I'm not, like busy and distracted. I don't wanna sit there and force myself to it. Cuz I think that teaches our kids to accept a begrudging connection.

Like a friend who's I don't really wanna have coffee with you, but fine, you wanna have coffee with me? So I'll have coffee with you like, That's not how we want our relationships to look. I want people to hang out with me in a playful manner because they really want to. I have a Saturday afternoon LEGO date with my kids.

We get out a giant bag of Lego. We all sit around it, we decide what we're building or we build it together. I love that. I actually enjoy it. Pretty much all of the rest of the time. I'm a no for playing. Like I don't wanna pretend to be a mermaid. I don't have time to do this. You're a kid. And here's the other thing is that I think as adults we often and this is also quite well documented, we often actually overpower their play.

And we don't realize that our involvement is actually reducing their interest because it becomes about our attention. And we are more developed than them in the sense that we can do fine motor skills that they can't yet master. We can come up with ideas and plots and vocabulary for things that they don't yet have.

And so it's very hard for an adult not to overshadow a child, here, let me do it for you. Here, I'll fix it. Here's the puzzle piece. Why don't we build it like this? Here, I'll build that. We come up with ideas and we can overshadow and. The whole point is for them to be the directors. The whole point is for them to figure it out.

And it's very hard for us to see our child struggling with the peace. So we just come and do it for them and out of the goodness of our hearts. But there we are just completely reducing their own intrinsic motivation and reward system for it. So give your child attention and connect with your child just.

I don't think it needs to be through play. I don't think that benefits them, and I think it's gonna really cause resentment in you because it's just too much for anyone to take on. We've already discussed how you know the burden of Parenting. Like I will sit and read my book and sit my coffee guilt free as my children play.

Guess what? I'm not a kid. I don't need to play. It's for them, and they know that I'm there. I'm their safe person and they can come back to me, but I think of myself like that lion. Laz on a rock in the sun while the Cubs rough and tumble, she's not getting in there with them and rough and ting, she doesn't need to do that.

She's an adult. She lies down and relaxes and they play. And I'm so comfortable with that role and I invite everyone to join me because I. Independent play can be that thing that makes Parenting so much easier for you. Like you can actually I wrote my book, I run my business, I do all of that because my kids play independently for hours a day.

It's helpful.

[00:48:23] Hunter: Yeah. And what I'm also hearing is like there may be some investment in the front end, like just like learning, skillful communication and all those different things. There's. Investment in maybe changing your habits in the front end, investment in dealing with your kids boredom in the front end, or like maybe creating some boundaries around screens and technology in the front end, and that pays off dividends down the line.

[00:48:51] Avital Schreiber Levy: Yes. Decluttering, setting up your home. Yeah. Getting the right toys, making some friendships in your neighborhood. All of these things can help. Mostly I would say it's an investment in setting up your environment, in your home and changing your own behavior around it. Being encouraging but not overly involved.

Interrupting, praising all of that stuff and really trusting your child and encouraging them. And, I teach all of that in detail, but really I think this is enough to go on to really understand that once you prioritize it, Yes. So yeah, it takes some investment and I think like most things, the number one thing is belief in your child and in yourself.

That this is their birthright, this is what they were designed to do. Like they're mammals. Mammals play in childhood, so if we just give, if we just get out of the way, give them the environment to do it, they will. And it might take a little bit of a threshold of resistance at the beginning cuz they're not used to it.

But yes, it pays off dividends. I have five children and I feel so confident being home for the day, even if I have Zoom calls, even if I have meetings, even if I have lots of housework to do. Cuz I know that they will play imaginatively deeply for hours. That's a gift to any parent to have that kind of confidence, yeah. Yeah. I love this sort of like possibility that you're sharing for us because it is possible, it can be done and Absolutely My favorite thing way to be involved was when they played, if they wanted my involvement was like if they were playing masseuse and I would like, they would build up like this mound of pillows and I would lie like a dead person up the bound of pillows that they would massage my back.

[00:50:24] Hunter: That was like the best game they ever thought of. I was like, I'm down with this one. No Candyland for me though. No way.

[00:50:32] Avital Schreiber Levy: Yeah. I saw a post years ago on Facebook, which was like five different games you can play with your kids while you are lying down and not saying anything. And it was all like misuse or like they're building a mountain on your back with pillows or they're like, they're, dead lions.

All these different ideas that you could do without moving.

[00:50:53] Hunter: I'll just take a little nap here. I'm a dead lion. Yeah. Work with that. Thanks kids. This is awesome, Avital. I love this. Like I think that. In looking at how play is stolen from our kids, and, we're looking at, these are all the ways that we can take the opposite.

We can, where we can encourage independent play, where we can, overcome the resistance, overcome the boredom, just with the knowledge that it's, this is not your problem. It's not your job to entertain your kids. And in fact your kids are gonna be better off for you backing off and not.

Entertain your kids not interrupting and all of those things. And I think that the idea of simplifying our houses, like in our environment is really appealing to lots of us. Oh, I remember realizing oh, I don't have to have this annoying talking noise making piece of plastic like, Okay, I'm gonna keep it for a month because my mother-in-law might come back and see if it's there, but then I'm getting rid of it like as soon as I possibly can.

[00:52:01] Avital Schreiber Levy: I don't know what you're talking about, hunter. That's never happened to me,

but Exactly. It's so liberating. I think we all could deal with a bit of simplicity and decluttering in our lives. I really I think, yeah, like. How much fun that this is. Also, I just love, I love talking about independent play because I love that this is a solution that involves less, not more, right? It's like actually you need to do less.

You need to have less stuff. You need to worry less, you need to be involved, less. Like just sit back, just relax. It's so easy and fun to be able to sell that idea, right? Spend us money, spend us time on it. No one stands except for me. Cuz I sell courses and books on this. But no one else stands to benefit.

No one else stands to make money. It's not an industry selling independent play. We're sold a million other things that are gonna stuff up our lives with stuff and it's literally stolen the play away from the kids. And that's terrible because it's so great for them and so great for us.

And yeah, just notice like it's enticing. I get enticed by the classes and the toys and all the things and then I'm like wait no. Wait. My kids just need to play with their imaginations, with themselves, with their friends, with the space, with music on, in the background, whatever.

Just simple. That's what they actually need. Yeah.

[00:53:19] Hunter: Avial, it's been such a pleasure to talk to you. I always love hanging out with you. Wish we had a little portal between Delaware and Israel, but but we don't. Where could people find out more about you have, I know, a book this year and where can they continue the conversation with you?

[00:53:38] Avital Schreiber Levy: So yeah, the best place to go for this topic is reclaim play.com. And there they can learn all about the upcoming book, reclaim Play, and my course Recla play. And if you wanna go deeper in it, I have some free trainings there. All about setting up the play zones. So that could be a really good next step just to learn how to set up those play zones and get your kids playing for hours so you can drink your coffee while it's hot.

[00:54:00] Hunter: Nice coffee day. Just toast to me. And Avital, while you're having your coffee. That first coffee you have. Sitting on your butt watching your kids.

[00:54:09] Avital Schreiber Levy: My favorite pictures that I get are just mom's feet up on the coffee table, crossed on the coffee table, a book, a cup of coffee, and blurry in the distance. You see the kids playing and she's just so happy.

She's my feet are up because my kids are playing. It's a wonderful image.

[00:54:27] Hunter: That's brilliant. I love it. That can be you two, my dear listener. Thank you so much, Aviel. I really appreciate you spending the time and sharing your wisdom and your research and all this stuff with your experience, and it just makes such a big difference.

So thank you,

[00:54:43] Avital Schreiber Levy: hunter. You're such a superstar. Thank you so much for having me. I always love connecting with you.

[00:54:54] Hunter: Hey, I hope you enjoyed this episode. Are you inspired to make space for play to declutter and be really boring as a parent? It really does pay dividends, and this is something we talk about in a Mindful Parenting of course. And I write about this in raising good humans every day, which is available for pre-order now.

Pre-ordering is such a great way to support the book. It really directly affects the book's chance of success because, it does a bunch of things. It tells the publisher to increase their print run. It encourages larger retails to increase their orders, so it'll actually be available for people, and when it's released, those pre-order sales count as part of the first week sales.

And that allows the book to get onto those bestseller lists, which are really so important. So please consider pre-ordering because it really makes such a big difference to support this book, raising Good Humans every day. Go to your, just so your book, seller of choice and it makes a big difference.

Thank you. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you so much for supporting the book. Thank you so much for the awesome reviews you leave on Apple Podcast. I love this one from D Killen 85 who, five Star Review, who wrote, I love this podcast, been listening for a while, and it is definitely helping me find tools to react better to my toddler.

Also just an overall calmer mind and attitude. Highly recommended. Yay. Thank you. Thank you so much and I'm so glad you're here. I wish you a great week. I hope you have some playful moments. Maybe you'll get started on that decluttering. Maybe you'll reach out to the, some people in the neighborhood here to do it, and I will too.

I'll be practicing along with you and I will be back next week right in your podcast player, and I'm so glad to connect. Take care my friend. Have a lovely week.

[00:57:06] Avital Schreiber Levy: I'd say definitely do it. It's really helpful. It will change your

[00:57:09] Hunter: relationship with your kids for the better. It will help

[00:57:12] Avital Schreiber Levy: you communicate better and just, I'd say communicate better as a person, as a wife, as a spouse, it's been really a positive influence in our lives. So definitely do it. I'd say definitely do it.

It's so worth it. The money really is inconsequential when you get so much benefit from being a better parent to your children and feeling like you're connecting more. With them and not feeling like you going all the time, or you're like, why isn't things working? I would say definitely to it. It's so worth it.

It'll change you no matter what age someone's child is. It's a great opportunity for personal growth and it's great investment in someone's family. I'm very thankful I have this. You can continue in your old habits that aren't working, or you can learn some new tools and gain some perspective to shift.

Everything in your Parenting,

[00:58:10] Hunter: are you frustrated by Parenting? Do you listen to the experts and try all the tips and strategies, but you're just not seeing the results that you want? Or are you lost as to where to start? Does it all seem so overwhelming with too much to learn? Are you yearning for community people who get it, who also don't want to threaten and punish to create cooperation?

Hi, I'm Hunter Clark Fields, and if you answered yes to any of these questions, I want you to seriously consider the Mindful Parenting membership. You'll be joining hundreds of members who have discovered the path of Mindful Parenting and now have confidence and clarity in their Parenting. This isn't just another Parenting class.

This is an opportunity to really discover your unique lasting relationship, not only with your children, but with yourself. It will translate into lasting connected relationships, not only with your children, but your partner too. Let me change your life. Go to. Mindful Parenting course.com to add your name to the wait list, so you will be the first to be notified when I open the membership for enrollment.

I look forward to seeing you on the inside, Mindful Parenting course.com.

Support the Podcast

  • Leave a review on Apple Podcasts: your kind feedback tells Apple Podcasts that this is a show worth sharing.
  • Share an episode on social media: be sure to tag me so I can share it (@mindfulmamamentor).
  • Join the Membership: Support the show while learning mindful parenting and enjoying live monthly group coaching and ongoing community discussion and support.