Remembering How to Play

Recently, I was talking with my son’s preschool teacher, and I casually asked her when my four-year-old should be learning how to read and write. Her response surprised me.

She gestured at the terrific space she had set up for the children to play in: an outdoor garden and playhouse, swings and slides, climbing ladders and sand boxes and even a space to build a little dam. She said, “He’ll be in school soon enough, and he’ll spend all day every day learning those things. Why push it? This his last chance to spend his days in play.”

As parents, we know that our children learn best through playing. Yet, when children enter school, it seems like the opportunities for play become more and more rare. It is as if we are teaching our children that even though play is the best way for them to learn, the method they use instinctively from when they are born, it is not the acceptable way to learn.

By the time we become adults, many of us have forgotten how to play altogether. I’m not talking about playing video games. When was the last time you picked up some crayons or modeling clay? When was the last time you made something, like a collage, or put together a puzzle, or built a cool fort? Most of us only revisit these activities when we have children ourselves and are playing with them.

This year, I resolved to teach myself how to draw and paint. Not because I wanted to learn a new marketable skill. Rather, I wanted to learn how to play again. I wanted to recapture that experience of making something just for the fun of it. If my creativity improved as a result, and I discovered a new way to express myself, those would be bonuses.

I have to admit that it has been tough, finding time in my busy days to sit down with a pad of paper and some colored pencils. Then I remind myself that play isn’t something to be scheduled, like recess, because then it’s all too easy to discard it when there doesn’t seem to be time.

I can learn something from my preschooler. For him, everything is play. He doesn’t distinguish between play and work; they are the same thing to him. It’s all fun, and it’s all learning. I want to bring back that sense of fun into all aspects of my life.

And I want to make sure that as he grows up, he never forgets how to play.

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