Formative Play



God in the Yard, Week 5

For the summer, we've declared Fridays to be Outdoor Day.   All this boy energy must have an outlet.  And all this preoccupation on my part must be balanced with the here and now.  I am going to India soon, but I'm not gone yet.  My sons ought to feel my presence.

And so, on Fridays we play with intention out in creation.  The lakeshore beach.  The community pool.  A little hike.  A little bike ride.  This photo was in a bicycle built for four.  J is in the driver's seat.  S's feet are dangling, along for the ride.

It's amazing how difficult this day of play was.  These vehicles are not easy to maneuver. Sometimes, B got out and pushed.  Sometimes we stopped and switched drivers.  We all had to do it together.  And we enjoyed the adventure.

I've been trained, perhaps trained myself, to think that growth happens more through suffering than through play.  I think this is based on a persistent human desire to explain suffering.  If the pain is useful, then I can endure it.  Consumer that I am, at least there's something in it for me.  And that is true in at least some of it's intents and purposes.


It has never occurred to me to think of play as a growth vehicle.  It is silliness, juvenile, appropriate only occasionally.  That's how I think.  I do, however, enjoy watching my children engage in it...immensely.  And it dawned on me this week why that is:  because they learn when they play.  Their play is how they grow.  And watching them grow is actually quite amazing.

In his or her first five years of life we attribute a child's ability to grow and develop to his or her freedom in playtime.  We bemoan the child who has never been camping, played ball, pretended to be a different character. We sense there is something missing from their experiences that won't give them enough momentum to push into life's next experiences.  This isn't an unsubstantiated theory.

But, apparently, this is not so for adults.  Why not adults?  Is there a switch that activates at 10 years old (the age when one son declared he was too old for playgrounds and superhero swim shorts and another son has poo-pooed VBS) in which the path of growth moves from play to work?  Isn't it another both/and?  We seem to think we ought to take away play and replace it with work and pain.  But I think we're missing half the cycle.  Or at least I'm beginning to think it.


When children engage in imaginative play they push the work of understanding the world more deeply into them. Whether playing house or Jedi knight, they are working out the truths of life in safe and controlled circumstances.   When J & B were younger I would intentionally stop our school day right after the days' lesson and give them some time to play because I knew that with the fresh imprint of the Revolutionary War or dinosaurs or flight they would take the Legos or Rescue Heroes out and incorporate scenarios in their play from what we had just talked about.  And the lessons grew solidly in their minds.  Play was their practice test.

In play the purpose of our ways is made clear.  We reveal our true selves when we allow our ego to be shoved aside and our curiosity to win.  It grows us.  So, why don't we value play?  Why don't we open ourselves up to less productive, more imaginative 'work?'  I think I've discovered something new to add to the summer.   Outdoor Day is a great first step, but my attitude toward it now might be freer, lighter and healthier as we head out to engage the world and let its imprint set deeply upon us.

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  1. August 9, 2012

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