Last Saturday I took my youngest son and his friend to Laser Quest. It’s the best laser tag place I know, full of two-story mazes covered in glow-in-the-dark paint. I had intended to sit and wait for the boys as they enjoyed their experience, but a quick phone call with Mom changed that plan. “Go play. Have fun! I would if I was there,” encouraged Mom. She knows I’m still a kid at heart, just like her. With her voice ringing in my ears, I played two of the greatest games of laser tag in my life! And, of course, my son enjoyed having me play right along with him.
I’ve been musing on that adventure throughout the week, wondering about the importance of play and celebration.
In an age where standardized test scores often overshadow whole child development, schools are either shortening or eliminating recess. At home, overachieving parents are shuttling kids from one activity to another without providing much downtime. Or if there is time at home, each family member is isolated by staring at a screen. Are we adults afraid of letting kids be bored, even when boredom can breed innovation?
Public Television’s beloved Fred Rogers of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” Are we providing time and space for this type of serious learning?
A constructivist approach lends itself to play. Play is a beautiful way to connect with others and practice social and emotional skills, behaviors, and competencies. Play provides a safe space — a microcosm of society — in which children learn to cooperate and compromise with one another. It’s also a whole lot of fun!
Not only is play important for kids, but it is also vital for adults. Miguel Sicart says, “Play is the expressive, creative, appropriative, and personal activity through which we make sense of the world.” Play is more than an activity; it is a mindset. L.P. Jacks notes, “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between work and play, labor and leisure, mind and body, information and recreation, and love and religion. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he’s always doing both.” Through play we cultivate curiosity and creativity. It fosters a sense of belonging and brings us joy, which gives us strength. I believe play is essential to living life to the fullest.
Years ago I remember a child development expert telling me to take twenty minutes a day to play with my kids. Think of it…no phone, no chores, no work…just time to play and be thankful. Whether you have kids in your life or not, I challenge you to take twenty minutes a day to play and celebrate. Let’s make a game of it!