Discovery, dirt, adventure and adrenaline. Is there anything more elemental for kids? At its best, play is pulsing movement, pushing boundaries, independent exploration. It’s a visceral stickiness that just doesn’t rub off.
Deep in play, kids are immersed in a total experience. They share a language where the only truly fluent tribal denizens are other kids. For the most part, we busy adults are rarely able to break the code. Playing presents the grown-up crowd with similar challenges to ‘being in the moment’. We understand what is meant by play but find it hard to let go, to abandon the trappings of daily life.
Each momentary release from the dull pull of gravity quickens the heart
The grown-up play DNA is diluted, not really in the same league as the kids. It’s not that grown-ups can’t play but we’re clattering about with so much baggage that we’re seldom able to sustain a good play vibe over an extended period of time. Yet we can reminisce. We are able to remember the delicious freedom of following whims, banding with other kids, stretching the frontiers of our known worlds.
As adults, this remembering can be a door to renewed playfulness. Recently I was fortunate to have four brothers relive some of their play memories from the 1930s and 40s in Scotland. Before my eyes, I saw these 80-year-olds transformed talking about games they played, about childhood friends and their starring roles in the occasional misadventure… At the end of an hour they each looked and sounded 10 years younger. Can it be that play is also a youthful elixir?
If you can’t get your play groove on, spend some time around kids-at-play. It’s almost guaranteed to be a more rewarding and fruitful pursuit than hanging around men-at-work.
You’ll know you’ve hit pay dirt when you hear supersonic noise — squeals, peals, shouts, high-pitched laughter a constant bourdonnement of kids’ voices. When I see kids fully engrossed in play I experience a contact high. On those occasions when I am somehow involved in the play at hand, there is joyfulness, a real satisfaction in knowing that you’ve helped kids to play, to discover themselves….
On week days when I speak with our primary school-aged kids after supper, the first thing I usually ask them is: “Who did you play with today?”
It’s not that I’m disinterested in what happens inside the classrooms, it’s just that play times can be a good barometer of how things are going overall. I want to know they’re playing, they’re physically active, and they’re hanging with friends. I want to know they are getting some relief from being cooped up at a desk all day long. They will have plenty of time for that….
So, from a young age we play, then as we grow older play dwindles becoming a more negligible part of our daily activities. But as one of life’s simple pleasures we owe it to ourselves and the children around us to make play more prominent and embrace the kaleidoscoping fun.
“Who did you play with today?”