Have you ever found that it’s the times supposedly set aside for enjoyment that can sometimes be the hardest work?
I’ve just set out on a four month trip to New York, Boston and the length of California, looking at the places children play. I’ll be talking to parents, workers and advocates, and learning all I can about the state of play in America. (For what it’s worth, I do know that America is more than just the coasts but am limiting myself on this trip to places near my friends and family – though suggestions for side trips are most welcome!)
It’s thrilling, to be able to dedicate a whole summer to learning more about play, but the last few weeks of organization and prep work have been massively stressful! All this focus on observation of play, on discussion and research and coordinating visits, has made me forget to make my own play a priority. The other night when I tried to write in my journal, to sketch the view of 8th Avenue from my friend’s living room window, I felt stuck and self-conscious. My hand moved jerkily, the words did not come. I was out of practice.
We sometimes talk about whether children and adults play differently and what those differences mean, but being playful is important to all of us. Our current happiness and continual development depend on it, and we need the therapy, the stress-relief, the physical, mental and creative exercise of being playful just as children do. Without time and space to be playful, adults too will withdraw or become aggressive, lose flexibility and their sense of wonder.
Of course we have different mechanisms for play – ours might take the form of meeting up with friends and using teasing word play, or telling stories to one another. We may join in sports or write poetry, cook, travel or paint. At its heart though, playfulness in adulthood is still about getting to know people, getting to know your world, and getting to know yourself all over again. There are books written on the subject for a wide audience which I wholeheartedly recommend, but this post is a special plea.
For those who have made their work or their whole lives about children’s play, who fight for children’s rights, who directly support children’s play, who write papers on the therapeutic benefits and interpretations of play expressions – go outside! Do something ridiculous, something fun for its own sake. Do it for your own sake. Do something that makes you feel alive and free, that reminds you of your own best and brightest self. Do it now, before something ‘more important’ comes along, before you are distracted from the small playful voice inside that directs you, before you forget how to listen.
If you still need the justification, tell yourself it’s research.