When I first started writing this I was going to say, “I often struggle with being truly free in play, and maybe that’s why some of the things I enjoy (play) the most are project related. In many cases I have enjoyed the process of preparation for play much more than the actual play event.” While this is true, I’m realizing that I don’t struggle to play as much as to fit my play into how I’ve traditionally defined play in my head. Our play evolves as we change and grow. This is natural and good. I find the work of preparation to be play. I love thinking about the possibilities, the challenges of the task, and the value it will have.
In college I took a 3D and Design class where we were not allowed to think or create practical items. At first this really bothered me. In fact some of my pieces had a hidden use – like the bottomless pencil holder. As I became more involved in the class I was able to let go of my need to be creating something useful and just play with whatever medium I was assigned. Children do this – they play because they can – they experiment because the materials are there. Somewhere along the way we stop playing with ideas as much. I have this reoccurring question running through my head. “How do you reconstitute play?” Sometimes our play just gets condensed or dried out.
Researchers say that play serves a purpose (Brown and Vaughn, 2009). In animals it is for survival and almost all animals stop playing once they gain the skills or the benefits of play are outweighed by the need to survive. Humans are wired differently and except in cases where survival is the primary focus, we still have a need for play throughout our lives. This play energizes us and helps us to care more about the everyday. We are much more interesting when we have active play as part of our lives. However, play can easily become routine with no variety, pushed to the side in a busy life, or seen as childish and left behind. When this happens we lose our spark, our zest for life. Play is like that little bit of special seasoning in a great meal that makes you feel delightfully satisfied when it’s all done. It makes everything else on our plates shine.
I have come to realize that my idea of play is definitely different than that of Nate and Elli and even differs from my soul mate, Jeff. Nate and Elli, at ages 5 and 4, would define much of my play as work even though they often benefit from the end results of my play. How do I reconcile this and keep our family close? I don’t have a definitive answer to this question although I do have a few thoughts. Sometimes it’s just ok to have different interests. Honestly, I will probably never join Jeff in his love of sports statistics as play. In fact this love baffled me a bit when we first got married. This is ok. I love him and his love of numbers is a form of play that helps him unwind. In other areas I find myself needing to bend my dislike for something and see it through the kids’ eyes. An example of this is playing trains. While I love the challenge of building the track, I actually highly dislike pushing trains around. My brain struggles to come up with a story line about where my train is going and why, not to mention that crawling around on the floor doesn’t come as easily as it does for the kids. Is this a reason to stop playing trains with Nate and Elli? No. I love them, and by seeing their excitement I am able to push my discomfort aside for a while and enter into their play world.
Sometimes they join me in my play world, in creating. In the absence of a clay studio, my kitchen is my studio. I know that I have to make space for the kids and Jeff to join me, even when something is not done quite how or as quickly as I would do it on my own. Having them there is precious and much more valuable than having something perfect! I love having them play with me. These are wonderful times.
|Photo taken by Miss Elli when she was playing with me.|
Brown, S. and Vaughn, C. (2007). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and
invigorates the soul. New York, NY: Penguin Group.