The Law of God on the Playground

Dear Reader,

Once a week our family goes to a playground to have fun with other homeschoolers at our local park day. Sometimes, like December in New England, it is poorly attended. Other times we get huge numbers. That happened recently on a  beautiful spring day when we moved outside for the first time this season. There were tons of kids. And for the first hour and a half of the two hours we were there, there was a large crowd of children roughly ages 5 through 13 playing together happily. But during the last half hour the group seem to fragment somewhat. Most of the girls chose to go off and do other things and there was left a group of about twenty boys playing what they call “prison.” It seemed to involve some boys being designated as criminals and being rounded up by bounty hunters and put in prison. Now as far as I know all the boys participated willingly. They could, if they didn’t like the game, have gone off as all the girls seemed to do and played something else. I don’t think there was any coercion or any bullying going on. But there was some concern by the moms both at the time and later over e-mail conversations that the boys were just too rough with one another.

This has all raised a number of issues, both in my own head and in discussions with others.  Being homeschoolers, we are hesitant to institute rules that apply to the whole group nor is there  a good mechanism for doing so. Our group is informal and has no leadership. No one has the authority to make rules or to enforce them. The general consensus seems to be that each family needs to make its own rules for what is acceptable play but also that it would be very nice if we had a lot of overlap.

So I have been thinking about our family’s rules and what I want of my boys when it comes to their play with others. We have for a while had certain unalterable rules that are mainly about safety. They include: don’t grab faces, don’t go for necks, and don’t jump on another person when he is down on the ground (pro-wrestler style though my kids thankfully don’t know that genre yet). They have also been told that if stuff they don’t like is going on they either need to walk away or else to speak up and suggest that whatever is going on stop. The latter course of action would be ideal but I know it is hard to speak up in a group so just walking away is acceptable. They are not to react violently when things go too far for them. My younger son has been known to do this. Boys of a certain age seem, in my observation, to snap at some point until they learn more self-control. But it is a very fine line between fun and not fun and it is hard for us adults to see it happening and to step in in time.

A new rule we will be adding is “don’t hold people down on the ground.” Our previous rules were mainly about safety; this one is not a safety issue. But they were holding the “prisoners” down and one child (the only one I know who actually had problems with the game by the way) felt threatened and became violent. This is the same sort of reaction my son has had on previous occasions so I don’t blame the boy. I do think that it is very hard for a human to be held down and not to have an instinctive reaction to fight back. So we will now include this rule. In my book, if they are all agreeing to play prisoner, it is okay to hold onto someone while they are upright but getting them on the ground and holding them there is bound to cause trouble.

But I am not willing, as I feel perhaps some others are, to have an ever-expanding list of rules about what is and is not acceptable. My goal is for my children to have an internal standard by which they can judge their and others’ actions, not a list of rules imposed by me. Which brings me to the real point of this post: what is the standard they should use? It is nothing less than the law of God. I feel that this should be the governing principle for my children’s lives as it should be for mine. There are times as parents that we impose rules which are not strictly necessary like “don’t mess up the living room” which may have a purpose (people are coming over and I want it neat)  but which are not strictly speaking moral issues. And in these things they should obey as a subset of the commandment to obey and honor one’s parents. But for the most part I don’t think parents should impose a lot of extraneous rules that go beyond God’s law.

I also think that over time, we should have fewer specific rules. Toddlers need us to spell things out for them because they have little wisdom. But as children grow, they should be able to guide their behavior based on an inner standard. That standard is the law of God writ in their hearts as He says he will do for His people. None of us will ever get it perfectly in this life of course. But it is important to me that my children understand that the rules they must obey don’t ultimately come from my husband and me but from a Higher Authority.

Which brings me to the question what is the Law of God and particularly what does it have to say about playground behavior? I do not believe that we can easily put the law of God into words. There are many summaries of it in the Bible, but in my mind it is like a picture that is, as they say, “worth a thousand words.” Just as we can describe a picture by saying things like “it has blues and greens” and “there is a boy in it” and can give a vague sense of it but cannot capture the  whole in words so too we cannot sum up the law of God easily in words. It is one, perfect, unified standard that human language fails to capture. Even the Ten Commandments are only an imperfect summary of it as Jesus shows us when he expands upon them in his teaching (eg. “you have heard it said ‘do not commit adultery’ but I say to you . . . “).

The best summary of God’s law that we are given is one of the shortest: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and, secondarily, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The second here flows out of the first in that we love our neighbor because we love God. I know this does not seem like a very practical rule to give to a child about playground behavior. We all want a list of clear rules to follow in our lives. But we should be very wary of anyone who comes to us with such lists. They are too easy. The truth is that our standard is seen only when we look in the face of God. He Himself is the standard for us. As His people, we seek to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength by being like Him, by emulating His characteristics. We must be truthful because He is a God of truth. We must love others because He has loved us.

So where does this leave us in terms of what happens on the playground? I am willing to have a few specific rules that are still mainly about safety. But mostly I want for my boys as they play with their friends what I want for them throughout life, that they have the law of God on their hearts, which is impossible without a knowledge of God and a relationship with Him, and that they are guided by it and act upon it.

Here are some conclusions I have reached:

– The law the governs my children’s behavior on the playground and everywhere else is not a set of rules imposed by me or any other human but should be God’s holy law.

– There is a time and a place for lists of rules but ultimately we cannot come up with a list to encapsulate the law of God.

– The law of God is written on the hearts of His people and as they progress in their sanctification it is more and more clearly understood by them.

– Apart from a real knowledge of and relationship with God it is impossible to keep His law.

– The heart of God’s law is to love Him as He loved us.

– As we become more and more sanctified, we become more and more like Our Savior. Our goal in keeping His law should be to emulate Him. (As a side note this means that it is very important for us to get to know Him and to ponder His attributes.)

– The biggest corollary of the greatest commandment “love God” is one that flows out of it “love your neighbor.” This commandment in particular seems to apply to playground behavior and can serve as a standard by which to measure one’s actions.

– My kids will mess up and make bad choices on the playground and in the rest of life. They are sinners. It’s genetic.

– When they do mess up, I should try to direct them back to the law of God in helping them understand why their actions were bad and what they could have done differently.

Whew, that’s a long post. This is what happens when I work out my opinions as I write (which I often do). I do actually, after all of this, have more to say about the playground. But this is a lot of the theory behind it so I will stop for now.


2 responses to this post.

  1. […] Reader, I did a couple of posts recently (here and here) on some problems we have had at our local homeschool park day. But I don’t want to […]


  2. […] is exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. I have said before that I do not think God’s law can be boiled down to a set of rules; even the Ten Commandments […]


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