As an adult, it takes a little bit of work to get back into the mindset of play, but once you do, it can be an extremely fun and even therapeutic experience.
I am the Nature Play Facilitator for The Homeschool Alliance, a fabulous homeschool enrichment program that a friend of mine started in my area. This means that I get paid to play with kids. Yeah. True story. How lucky am I, right?
I try to be hands off and mouth shut as much as possible, so that the kids’ imaginations can lead the way, and I love being immersed in such a magical experience, even if most of the time it is as an observer and watchful eye.
Recently though, I was absolutely thrilled when a little boy included me in the play. He sized me up momentarily before commanding, “You. Hold this stick.”
“Okay. Got it,” I replied. He then shouted, “Everyone follow me!” and led our little parade toward the creek. He took a step onto the “bridge” and I could see the wheels turning as he glanced back at me with a look that clearly said, “I don’t think this board is going to hold you,” to which I replied, “It’s okay. I’ll jump!”
I did so, and in clear admiration he said, “Nice!”
“Thank you,” I said with pride.
We then worked together on some fort improvements, we cast some spells (it involved rubbing two sticks together so I initially assumed we were making fire but I was gently yet firmly corrected), made a “pit trap” in the creek to catch all the bad guys, and floated a styrofoam “boat” down the creek to see how far it would go. It was a blast.
As an adult, it takes a little bit of work to get back into the mindset of play, but once you do, it can be an extremely fun and even therapeutic experience. Here’s why:
Play is meditative. When you are playing you are totally immersed in right now and outcomes really don’t matter. The activity becomes the purpose and you do things for no other reason than you thought of it and you can. Sure, sometimes there is a goal, like in building a fort, but focus is centered on each step in the process and then before you know it, “Ta-da! We built a fort.”
Play is collaborative. Play builds friendships and facilitates teamwork. It’s absolutely fascinating to watch as a little mind comes up with one thing and a suggestion is made to the group and then either adopted, rejected, or attached to someone else’s idea in order to make everyone happy. Occasionally someone will be upset if their idea is rejected immediately, but it is usually quickly remedied by compromise or another suggestion that the first child finds amicable.
As a facilitator, I will wait until they have made a good effort in working it out themselves, and if frustration is starting to build I will suggest a compromise or an alternate activity. Interestingly, usually as soon as I do that they quickly come up with their own solution. What an amazing way to build connection, cooperation, respect, and empathy!
Play builds your brain and increases the capacity of your imagination. The possibilities of where play can lead are endless, because imaginary world IS endless. Play helps facilitate creative thinking and problem solving, and helps teach the place of story in our lives and the fabric of storytelling as thoughts and ideas come alive and get woven into the play.
Play is fun and can combat stress. Several months ago I was extremely stressed out, and in a brilliant move my boyfriend took my two daughters and I to the playground. We took over the play structure and engaged in a raucous game of “pirate ship” where we each had a pirate name and role to play–except my boyfriend–he was the sea monster. It was exceedingly fun, lifted my spirits, and seeing even my teenager get into it (she co-opted my role as captain in a genius mutiny) was thrilling.
Play’s the thing! So go—play, and if you have the honor of being included in children’s play, be sure to keep your ears open, because occasionally you’ll get a gem like the following:
“Sometimes the best things come out of mistakes.” ~One of my little buddies, age 6
Out of the mouths of babes indeed. So much to be learned in playing with and listening to these wise little souls.