I was at the US Play Coalition at Clemson last week, presenting twice and hanging out with some of the finest people around. Jill Wood and I shared our early findings in a study comparing injury rates between the fixed equipment recess playground and the adventure playground after school program at Parish. We’ll be sharing those more publicly soon, but spoiler: the adventure playground won! Joan Almon also led a panel on playwork projects in the USA, and generously invited Pop-Ups to participate. In between these sessions I did the usual things – tinkered with slides, scouted out the scones, and looked for old friends and new.
This conference attracts a broad mix of people and definitions of play. There were some mutterings in the hallway about what had been included in the sessions as well as what had been left out. One person commented that there was too much focus on children’s play, and no time at all spent on play for adults.
“Adults need play, too,” he said.
“They definitely do,” I agreed. His colleague elbowed me gently.
“We do, you mean.” Oh right, I thought.
He smiled a little, as if I’d forgotten myself as someone who needed play. Really, I’d be thinking of “adults” as a category made up of non-playworkers. Civilians. Only yesterday a child asked me “are you a child, or what?” and when I said that I was an adult she replied only “huh”, in extremely skeptical tones. Of course, I was inside a giant plastic tub at the time.
That man was right though, because while I do know that adults need to play, the main reason why I prioritize it in my own life is because the children I meet at work (and Suzanna) remind me daily not to be a hypocrite.
There are so many opportunities for most adults to play deeply, authentically, but we rarely make full use of them. Sports can let us access that feeling, as can drawing or cooking, choir or pottery. Sometimes it’s the time spent quietly that’s most important, when we invite that tiny inner voice (so long ignored) to make itself known again. Sometimes it’s time spent puttering, allowing ourselves to try something, unfettered by the need to be good at it. Wherever we find it, play allows us to process and release whatever is troubling us, weighing us down.
Some children who arrive onsite are so nervous, so fully trained in the dark arts of obedience, that they look to us again and again for permission. We can give it verbally, we can choose materials that support the process, but on some level we also need to carry that permissiveness in our bones. When we are in play flow, time and space shift around us. Instead of pressing in, as they do when we are stressed, they expand and breathe. When we live in the present moment we are lightened, and bring that to the site in our lightness of touch.
Meeting our own needs for play reminds us to take playwork seriously, but ourselves not seriously at all.
For me, play often means creative writing. If that’s true for you too, consider signing up for a weekly writing prompt! It’s free, and hopefully delightful for us both.