Play = fun + learning
This blog from a high school senior documents well that need for exploration and creativity in school. It may make better humans!
True confessions. I haven’t felt much like playing. And I haven’t followed my own advice – that it’s important to play even when it seems counterintuitive. Life has intervened, as I like to say, so playfulness and this blog fell by the wayside. A hospitalized mother-in-law, a rejection letter, and an increase in parenting responsibilities formed a perfect trifecta to knock me off course. I’m really not a hypocrite. Just human! And the stretch of unseasonable, below freezing temperatures didn’t help.
So, what did I do?
I defaulted to the #1, numero uno, grown-up form of recreation. Ok, yes it does involve alcohol but that is not the key ingredient! I sought out and benefited from adult conversation. I went to a party and socialized! I’ve heard it said that “kids play and adults talk.” Well, talking is sometimes my favorite adult form of play. As old as time.
Especially social talking in a group. The patter is part storytelling, part stand-up comedy, part sharing, part political discourse, part movie reviewer – a lot goes on at a party, depending on what you and your friends like to talk about. With a critical mass of six or more and almost any reason to gather, these human encounters can be elevated from chitchat to entertainment. We can take yourselves beyond commiserating, gossiping or the blah, blah, blah recall of daily events to a place where the conversational give and take becomes fun, engaging and about more than just you.
Some folks do this social stand-up or schmoozing really well. The natural born storytellers. Some of us are especially good at asking the right questions and drawing out a story or encouraging a storyteller. Some of us are just great, appreciative listeners. We can all participate. And, after a night out as a grown-up, not focusing on the mundane, I feel quite chipper (plenty of water and an ibuprofen before bed sometimes help too).
Even more playful is hanging out with buds in celebration. This is essentially why we have events like St Patty’s Day and Fourth of July. Sure, there are other historical and cultural reasons why these holidays exist, but those reasons don’t dictate why we celebrate with parades and parties. We are a social animal, and a gregarious one at that when push comes to shove. The smallest excuse to celebrate and we are there! Even introverts enjoy hanging out with their buds. Probably not on Main St around the boozy, green clad, Irish-for-a-day revelers, but probably in their own space, with music and umbrellas on their drinks (any kind). It’s good for the soul.
So, I will take my advice to heart and throw a little late-winter soiree. Just for fun. It does a body good to lighten up.
As adults, we spend most of our week doing things we know, or we are good at, or we have trained to do. That’s totally different from playing. You don’t have to be good at playing; you just have to be playful, engaged, and present. It uses a different part of your being and brain to play. That’s probably why it can be so relaxing to play. It’s a break.
So, we went bowling the other night. Hilarious! We got bumpers, but tried to avoid relying on them. Memories of learning to bowl at girl scouts came back to me, along with the footwork diagram on the filmstrip (ok, I’m dating myself!) and the first kiss behind the bowling alley. I am lucky if I bowl over 100 but, if I do say so myself, I have great form, extending my right arm and crossing my right leg behind me. So I strutted my stuff, and laughed, and was rewarded by a couple spares and one strike and many high-fives. We have now been bowling three times in as many weeks.
The fact that my companions were also bowling in the low range helped add to the fun. Who you play with matters. A good playmate is someone who is after the same experience as you. Nothing is worse than playing a game or sport with someone way more competitive or driven than you are, or vice versa. It helps if you go into the game with the same mindset. Bowling, ice skating, mini golf, kickball, roller skating, ping pong, volleyball, and video arcades all offer opportunities to just let loose and have fun. Certainly there are people who are quite good at these games and take them very seriously, and even become professionals. But these are also games available to the average American without needing a lot of prep or skill or knowledge in order to have fun. And they meet physical and social needs too.
Do something different this weekend. Spice things up, but be ready to laugh at yourself!
Hallmark’s famous slogan “When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best” was aimed at our heartstrings to increase our card buying habits, and it spurred an uptick in acknowledging special holidays. So many holidays in fact that it can feel burdensome to keep up with them all, and pre-packaging our sentiments can result in a lack of sincerity. While greeting cards are still around, they have definitely taken a backseat to e-cards, Facebook posts, and snappy animated video greetings as modes of acknowledging milestones. Quick electronic versions keep us from missing the occasion, but I’m not thinking this is what Hallmark had in mind. “The very best”? The slogan that’s more appropriate in the 21st century is “It’s the thought that counts”.
But, when you care enough….
It can mean you when care enough about yourself, about your need to connect, congratulate, celebrate and acknowledge the big and small events in your hub of the universe. It can mean that other people matter to you, and those friendships remain active and strong only when you put time into them. Relatives remain close to you when you stay in touch (so pick carefully!) Your connection to neighbors and co-workers increases when you reach out, even just with a “happy thanksgiving” note or a Halloween treat bag. Yes, by all means, have fun doing it. (You knew I was going to get to the play part sooner or later!) Use the opportunity to be creative, whether with words or photos, color or sound, with scissors or the computer.
It’s actually not about sending the very best. It’s about sending a little piece of yourself. Giving yourself time to find that piece of yourself. Maybe it is a JibJab photo card, or maybe it’s a Skype-delivered song. Or maybe it is a card.
This is the month of Valentine’s Day. So I am playing by making valentines. Not amazing, floral, hand-cut or watercolored mini-masterpieces. I wish. I’m not going for that very best.
I’m taking advantage of the “need” for valentines and giving myself permission to spend 30-60 minutes mucking about with paper and glue. And I am not doing it with my kids this year. I’ll leave the materials out for them later, but this is about me…and maybe a little of that kid within me. I have great memories of being 10 and cutting out hearts and gluing doilies.
My supplies are stolen from my kids’ craft drawer: construction paper, heart stickers, glitter glue, and crayons. I will date myself here but long ago, in the days of the big purple dinosaur, I made my kids a Barney Box (our own version of the bottomless Barney Bag). I threw in miscellaneous items like straws, paper clips, pipe cleaners, rubber bands, tongue depressors, magazines to cut up, toilet paper tubes, and crumpled wrapping paper. On rainy days, my kids would rummage through it and make structures with cereal boxes or milk jugs; they started adding their own items to the Barney Box, like an odd button or cool plastic packaging insert. Their creative eye grew. It’s been around for almost 20 years. Today, I took a shoebox and started my own Barney Box. (I will have to come up with a more sophisticated name!!) I’m starting with actual art supplies – my own crayons! – and will let it grow from here.
I can’t wait for a rainy day!
A new twist to Cocktail Hour
I live in the North, but with Climate Change, that makes little difference. There is the possibility of snow everywhere, right? The natural challenges may make you feel limited to only inside options for playtime, but if winter is to go on for months and months, embracing the outdoors is best. Take charge of the situation.
I highly suggest a little planning ahead. That is, make the work of snow removal serve double duty. Shovel your driveway into a central area and use the snow to make fort walls. If a plow has pushed snow into a huge pile, make that the base of your SnowDragon. Shovel your steps each day onto the same pile and in a few days, you will have a lovely snow column to carve. While you clear the snow, daydream about what it could become. Once I scuplted a small sea turtle on the hood of my car, which froze in place and then melted and “swam” away on the highway a few days later.
Kids certainly help with the labor, but adults are pretty savvy when left to their own devices. We invited a few neighbors over to enjoy drinks on the Satuday evening after we created the low fort shown. Our guests were full of compliments, and added some flourishes and accoutrements of their own including glass holders dug into the walls..
With a good dumping, you can create all kinds of shapes, structures, creatures, and whimsy.
One very important precept in my view about play is that you don’t first have to be in the mood to play. This is where we as grown-ups meet our downfall. Kids will play anytime, because hey, they want to play anytime. As we mature and take on responsibilities and concerns, we feel that carefree attitude slip away. Playing is extra or superfluous or besides the point. We just don’t want to be playful.
“Not now, kids.”
“No, I can’t really go out tonight.”
“I’m too tired. Maybe another time.”
The truth is that once engaged, being playful actually offers us a boost. It gives us more energy than it takes away, if we let it. Like going to the gym. If we just get off our duff, we feel better for it.
A therapist once told me, when you are feeling anxious or uncomfortable in a situation that you have to get through, try smiling and acting like you are really confident. Fake it. Put on a public face, but then, more often than I may have wanted to admit, I discovered it works. I truly started to feel comfortable and self-confident, in certain situations. My first days as a classroom teacher definitely required this technique. I played the role of the young, perky teacher, hiding my self-doubt and introverted personality, and lo and behold, the kids loved me and the role took hold. I became an upbeat, vocal person.
So, it’s totally fair to start out faking it, pretending that you are playful if you have to. Push into the vibe and you’ll start feeling the groove. I dare you to listen to this song and not rock a bit!
“Happy” song, by Pharrell Williams, popularized in the movie Despicable Me 2