One of my favorite “extracurricular activities” is offering my communications expertise to community issues that inspire me. As such, I was recently asked to join a committee to help plan PlayVolution, a two-week event that encourages people to get out and engage in “unstructured, unplugged, and unlimited play.”
Being the clever marketing professional that I am, I suggested the idea of documenting a family going through a “Play Makeover” on social media. What better way to show the benefits of play than sharing the journey of a busy family reconnecting through unstructured and unplugged activities? I thought my family would be a good fit for the series since we perfectly fit the criteria: we have a large crew at different ages and stages, and all of us could benefit from spending more time away from our screens. I ran the idea by my husband and kids, and they all agreed enthusiastically. After all, they said, who wouldn’t love to have the opportunity to add more play into their lives?
As it turns out, one of us DID have a problem with this idea.
When it came time to start documenting our Play Makeover, I stalled. I balked. I couldn’t do it.
At first I couldn’t figure out why…but then it hit me.
Our kids didn’t need a play makeover. We have always encouraged them to create, to dream, and to engage in play that aligns with their passion. They could benefit from less screen time of course, but their willingness and ability to engage in unstructured playtime is stellar. Even though they are at very different developmental stages, they each have their own versions of play.
My 16-year-old has his comics, his action figure collections and his newfound passion for scouring old record shops for hard-to-find treasures on vinyl. My 14- year-old is a model train and Lego aficionado, and spends hours crafting layouts and elaborate Lego set-ups in his free time. Our 11-year-old would spend every hour of the day playing basketball if he could. Our daughter is an artistic genius and spends hours in her room drawing and crafting to her heart’s content. And all four older kids jump in when the 3-year-old is playing without missing a beat, seamlessly joining in whatever his little imagination has constructed without question.
My husband even understands the importance of making time for fun; he’s found a way to make time for his cooking hobby, his reading, and his running.
So it wasn’t our entire family who needed a play makeover. It was just ME.
I didn’t realize it at the time. I mean, I sure talk a good game when it comes to advocating for unstructured free play. We need more of it in our schools, in my opinion. I truly wish the US would take Finland’s lead on educational practices. We have purposefully chosen preschools for our kids that offer a more child-led, play-based curriculum. There is a boatload of research that confirms the importance of unstructured playtime for people of all ages. And I’ve always marveled at the brilliance and beauty of watching our kids when their imaginations are on fire.
But when it came time for me to come up with opportunities to engage in play–real unstructured activities that served no other purpose than just pure fun–I froze. I had (and still have) no idea what that would look like for me.
To be clear, it’s not that I don’t have fun or that I don’t engage in activities that speak to my interests or passions. I love to work out and I truly love participating in my volunteer activities. I also do my best to make time for self-care when possible. These are things I really enjoy and would feel lost without.
It made me wonder: is this what play looks like for me?
The answer, as it turns out, is somewhat complicated. Although I enjoy engaging in these activities, I realized there was a difference between pursuing these interests and engaging in play. Most of my interests have a very specific goal or outcome such as winning an election, influencing public policy, or making a difference for the greater good.
In addition, my working out and other self-care practices are often done as a way to help me “blow off steam” or to “decompress.” Engaging in these activities, though pleasurable, offers outcomes that sound a lot like the routine maintenance needed to keep a machine up and running. If you don’t make it stop, or if you don’t keep it in top working order, the equipment will wear out.
Somewhere along the line, I had stopped engaging in activities that serve no other purpose than just having fun for fun’s sake. Now I’m so out of practice that I don’t even know where to begin or where to start.
The good news is that I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do to rekindle that sense of wonder I’ve lost. I’ll need to let go of the mindset that every activity I engage in has to serve some sort of purpose. I’ll also need to free myself of the expectation of perfection. Finally, I’ll make sure I always look for a way to make my obligations and other activities more playful. For instance, who says saving the world can’t be fun?
What sorts of things do you do to help you find that sense of play in your life?