All I Need to Know I Learned at the Playground

Today we feature a guest post from Meg Rosker. Meg lives with her 3 children and her husband on the beach in sunny Florida. She is a former public school teacher and blogs at Let Children Play. She started her website after she discovered that her son’s school doesn’t provide any recess for children after kindergarten. Now she writes to inspire families and educators to play and spread the word about its importance in the lives of all children.

Today I went to the park with my kids. This is part of our daily routine. We usually meet up with a few other families in the mid afternoon and play until dinner. Today I spent a great deal of time with my youngest son who just turned two. My older kids, 4 and 6, had run off to take a walk around the lake with their friends, so the little guy and I were left alone. We rode the big purple, bouncing dinosaur. I pushed him on the swing. He threw some mulch around.

I was bored. I wanted to talk to the other moms, but they were off walking around the lake too. Now I was bored and bummed. Then I remembered my blog. “Oh, yeah.”, I said to myself. “I write about play every day. In fact I write about how parents are supposed to play WITH their kids.” Oops.

We headed for the slides. I scooped him up and sat him on my lap and away we went, flying faster than a rocket down, down, down, around the curling elbows of the slide and then plop! out the bottom. It was fun. He ran up the stairs for another turn and another and another and another. By the third time I was making up games on the steps, jumping up and down as he went. By the fourth time I was singing, loudly. By the fifth time I was completely insane, singing, jumping, shaking my behind to some imaginary beat. He laughed and away we went down the slide…again.

I lured him over to the lake where he watched a great blue heron and then tried to wade into the water to chase the ducks. I calmly warned of alligators and snakes, but he only stared up at me with big, blue, blank eyes.

All too soon the older children arrived back at the playground and it was time to pack muddy feet and tired bodies into the van. It had been a playful day and I had been reminded of something really, really important.

Playing with our kids isn’t something we just discuss it is something we need to do. We need to play every day so that we can remember how important it is in our lives.

I believe that one of the reasons we have strayed so far from our natural tendencies to let children play is because in the rush of adulthood and all its pressures we have left our playful side to stagnate. In a fog of responsibilities and deadlines we have forgotten how much fun it is to play and how effortlessly we learn when we do. Instead we are passing along the same structure of evaluations and overly scheduled days that many of us dislike. Why not give the gift of play instead?

So what did I learn at the playground today? I was reminded that the experiences we gather while in play are invaluable. It is through spontaneous discovery that I recalled the importance of play. We must use play as a tool, just as we use science or math or reading. We must hold play as important and treat it as sacred. If we teach this to our children, if we show them that we can learn through play, they certainly will too.

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