Children take time. Children need time—our time. It's not enough to feed and bathe and clothe them. Meeting a person's basic needs constitutes one kind of love, but phileo love requires more than that. To show them that we like them and to grow in friendship-love with them, we have to spend time with them doing things they like to do.
When a child is very young, about the only thing they know how to do is mess things up. I remember playing blocks with our little ones. I would see how high a tower I could build before they could crash it down. I'd exclaim over it, "Oh, no!" while they clapped their pudgy hands in glee. Eventually they learn to build and create rather than tear down, making elaborate structures of their own. By playing with them, we give them a growing awareness that there are times to build and times to tear down. Through playtime we can teach them so many things: shapes and colors, sounds and purposes for different things, how to arrange things in order and classify things in different ways; we make room for their creativity.
All children like to play. They need to play. Playtime stretches their imaginations, helps to develop their motor skills, and teaches them all manner of real-life constructs. Buy toys with these things in mind: toys that require their imaginations, toys that teach classification and order, toys that they can use to make things and do things with. Toys are an investment; they cost money. So buy toys that will last and that stand the test of time.
Our children were introduced to playmobil toys when we lived in Alaska. We started giving those for birthdays, and over the years our collection became quite extensive. They are a bit pricey, but they have provided hours and hours and hours of imaginative playtime. They are toys that have been worthy of the investment. Now that our children are grown, our grandchildren and the children of other family friends are benefitting from our collection. I think children have wanted to come to Grandma's house or "go visit the Smalls" not to see us but to play with our playmobils! They are toys that stir the imagination as the children pretend with any number of scenarios.
Children love to pretend. This is a wonderful thing. By pretending they are learning to re-enact real life. Dolls and dishes, costume dress-up clothes of all kinds, tools and guns and building supplies—these all become means of instructing them about real life. (Some may react to the idea of guns as play toys. I didn't like my children to have guns as toys, but boys do it naturally, it seems. And real life bears out that guns are useful tools. They are a means of provision and protection. So we teach our children even when they are little what guns are for, that they are never to point them at a person; and we teach them the 6th commandment.) Tea parties on the floor; kings and queens, princesses and servants, knights and dragons; pioneers and settlers; blocks and legos, architecture of all kinds; cars and trucks, airplanes and helicopters and trains: the sky's the limit! By playing "pretend" with them, we have the opportunity to teach them godly ways of responding and biblical ways of thinking about family and authority and friendships and work and . . .
Playtime together gives us opportunities to speak truth into their lives and talk to them about things from the Bible. Learning to share becomes a major component of sibling or friend playtime. So we instruct them from the Bible, teaching them that God tells us to do good and to share (Hebrews 13:16). This is part of what life in Christ is all about; this is what it looks like to let God's Kingdom come into our everyday lives. They learn not to grab and force their way, not to let self-will and anger dominate. We teach them to put the needs of others ahead of their own (Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10).
Playtime often brings out their sin nature, providing us with many teachable moments to show them their need for a Savior and for a transformational change within their hearts. These lessons are HARD. No one likes to have their will thwarted! Our natural response is to fight back. We have to teach our children in those heated moments when their self-will is rearing up and their emotions are flaring to listen instead to the voice of the Spirit and to bring God's Word to bear on each and every situation, relationship, and trouble spot.
There's no better way to invest in your children's lives when they're young than to play with them. Take a little time today—to play.