My Connections to Play
Essential Play Items
- Dolls – Baby dolls of any sorts were an major item I used during the majority of my play time in my childhood. I would often use these when I would play by myself, often creating up numerous scenarios involving these dolls.
- Dirt – I would love to play in the dirt when I was younger. I can remember digging up huge holes and making mud pancakes. I spent countless hours with my elbows covered in dirt, creating restaurant scenes with these mud cakes.
- Ice Skates – We use to live in an old farm house that had a bog/swamp in the backyard. During the winter times, I would lace up a pair of my mom’s old ice skates and soar between the plants and bushes on the frozen swamp. Imagination and creativity often met me there, where I dreamed up skating in the Olympics or meeting up with an “imaginary” friend.
- My Little Brother – He was my partner in crime when it came to play! From creating mud slides on the side of the hill to creating multiple clubs (where oddly, we were the only two members), we spent many hours together playing.
- Nothing – So many of my playing adventures just used my imagination and no items. I would dream up different situations and act them out. Or, I would pretend I had imaginary friends who would go off to school. Whatever I was doing, I used my brain to help make playing more creative.
The Role of Play and How People Supported Me
Play was a huge factor in my life when I was growing up. It was a daily occurrence that consumed my life for hours. I didn’t spend my day in front of the TV or computer screen. Rather, you could typically find me outside playing with my brother or running through the woods or riding my bike in circles. If I wasn’t in school or doing homework, I was playing. Play was one of my biggest teachers as I grew up. Through my creative situations, I would act out problems I had, and I often came up with a solution without knowing it. Play would give me time to think and ponder something difficult that was happening to me (like not getting a toy I really wanted.) I would find that my “imaginary friends” would go through the same exact situations (how ironic!), and I would have to come up with a solution. Through play, I learned and grew throughout development. Without play in my life, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
Since play was a huge factor in my childhood, there were three primary people who supported me, either directly or indirectly. My mom often encouraged me to play outside or indoors with some of my toys. She would watch in the distance while I would play by myself, sometimes providing a funny comment here or there. When I would play with my brother, she would know when to interject and when to allow us to figure it out ourselves. Through my mother, I had a firm, secure ground to play upon. I knew that I could play by myself, knowing she wasn’t far away. This security created a confidence within myself, increasing my ability to play. In addition, my daddy was my “big” play mate. I knew that whenever my dad played with me, I was bound to have fun. We would rough house together, with him often tossing me up in the air. I adored when he took the time to play with and invest in me. Those playful memories of direct interaction shaped how I viewed adults and has influenced me throughout my life, even into adulthood. Finally, my brother was my partner in crime. We would play with each other so much and never get bored of each other. We created the Power Rangers club that met almost every day, and it even had its own data collection (although I can’t remember what we wrote about now). You could find us in the summer time jumping through the sprinklers or creating a giant mud slide that ruined the grass for about a three yard stretch. Since my brother and I played together so much, he supported the role of play in my life by giving it more meaning and depth. My play experiences were enriched and much more special because of my relationship with my brother.
Play: Same or Different Today?
As a grown up, a teacher, and now a mother, I get to see play in a difference perspective: the adult’s. However, play has evolved so much from what I knew it as growing up. Media and technology has grown immensely, significantly affecting both parents and children. Rather than playing outside like I did or using my imagination on a creative day, many children in today’s generation are behind a screen, whether it be a video game, television, or a computer. Since my son required intense therapy weekly, we are at a rehabilitation hospital twice a week. I sometimes watch the children, many of who sit quietly behind a tablet or watching a cell phone. Those few children who dare play are often giggling and trying to interact with each other. However, the parents and adults within the room shoot them mean glances and the “Why-can’t-your-child-be-quiet?” looks. Not only has technology taken over the play aspect in a child’s world, it has also influenced adults. Rather than taking the time to play with their child, it’s far easy to plop them in front of the TV, so they can catch up on email, social media, or even their favorite TV show. I have done this far too many times than I should have. In fact, this evening I realized how much TV my son had watched today, so we turned off the TV and actually played with his toys. He laughed so much because of the direct interaction that he didn’t want to stop to go to bed. It’s amazing the see the difference in play from my generation to my son’s generation by the simple (and complicated) influence of media and technology.
In addition, many of the children during my childhood didn’t suffer from obesity. Within today’s world, overweight children and obesity is rising at an alarming rate. This is partially due to the increase of technology, leading to more sedentary behavior. So, rather than going outdoors to play and using their creativity, children in today’s generation who suffer from obesity may find it difficult to actively play, so they opt to remain stationary. This is so different from when I grew up from the fact that we were made to go outside and play until dark. Children today are, sadly, found indoors in front of technology.
My hope for young children today is that they rejuvenate a playful spirit. My hope is that they will put down the technology and use their imaginations to come up with fun situations to act out. I hope that they find an old toy that has long been abandoned and begin to play with it again. My hope is that adults will also take time away from the computer to play and interact with their children. Not only will play become more significant in these children’s lives, but the parent-child relationships will be strengthened. Ultimately, my hope for the young children in this generation is that they hold onto the fun spirit of playing and that they always find new ways to learn through play.
Closing Thoughts About Play
To me, play is a significant factor for any child that will teach them. help them learn important lessons through life, and impact them throughout adulthood. Research has documented the positive impacts play has on all development domains, which will lead to greater academic success, stronger social relationships, and better communication skills. When we invest in play for children, we are ultimately investing in their future. When children are afforded the opportunity to play, either in school or at home, that allows them to be in control, they will begin to learn about life in a unique perspective that only they will understand and holds meaning only to them. As children are continuously exposed to play in childhood, it will build their creativity, imagination, and free spirit, which will help them treasure play throughout life and when they have children themselves.
When I look at how I played as a child, I am blown away by the amount of life lessons I learned. I learned the silly lesson that you don’t make a water park through your mother’s freshly grown green grass. Otherwise, you will spend hours spreading more grass seed and watering it. I also learned deeper lessons, like how to deal with the death of a loved pet. Through play, I learned that it’s ok to feel a variety of emotions and display them. I learned when it’s appropriate to be angry and when it’s ok to cry. These valuable lessons have carried over into adulthood, just more fine-tuned as I have grown. I still remember how to handle the death of a loved pet and when I can cry. Play has been one of my biggest teachers throughout life, and it continues to teach me more “adult lessons” in this grown-up life. When I take the time to play with my son, I remember to stop worrying and smile more often. I remember to enjoy the little things in life and not sweat the big stuff. Play shaped and molded me as a child and continues to leave its influence through my adult life. Without play, I wouldn’t be where I am today.