The Importance of Play

\"Autumn“It’s okay. You made a mistake. You’re still learning,” said a little boy no more than 3 feet tall. In what must have been his “old age” of four, he uttered these words of wisdom to his barely 2-year-old sister. She ran after him around the playground, trying to keep up, her wispy blonde hair bouncing as she went.

I watched from a few feet away, swinging on the swing set with a friend. We had already spun ourselves silly on the twirling apparatus across the park, climbed the fake vines up the wall, dropped into what could have been the best fort ever, and descended a few of the varied ladders on the playground.

“You did it!” her brother exclaimed a few moments later. The girl popped out of the slide with a smile on her face and not a care in the world. She barely acknowledged what her brother said, choosing instead to chase after him, her curiosity piqued at what could be the next adventure.

They ran around like this the entire time we were on the swing set, neither one capable of exhaustion, or so it seemed. Up the stairs, around the playground, across the wobbly bridge, down the slide, and up the stairs again. Over and over and over again. Both beamed with excitement, wonder, awe. They delighted in the simple pleasure of play.

Children are great at delighting in the simple pleasure of play, of encouraging each other, of making mistakes and of trying again. They don’t often give up, nor do they necessarily recognize “error” or “mistake.” Rather they focus on the attempt and if they have to attempt multiple times in order to succeed, they do.

Adults are not so good at that. As “grown-ups,” we are quick to choose things we know how to do or things that we are comfortable with. We give up quickly if a task or goal seems out of reach, selecting instead that which is mediocre at best. Our curiosity succumbs to the “rules” we have been conditioned to believe. Creativity takes a backseat to practicality. And our souls suffer as a result.

I have a hard time using my imagination. Kids could imagine an entire lifetime of adventures. My curiosity falls prey to the “necessities” of life – bills, work, laundry, and so on. Curiosity is the necessity for kids, as it is the very motivation they need to continue to grow. Creativity exists in the space I’ve given it – in a few boxes in a corner of my kitchen – while I spend time completing menial tasks. Creativity is the very essence of a child, as he or she creates crafts, games, forts and make-believe escapades from something as simple as a box of packing peanuts.

When we step away from the menial tasks and into a playful world, those very things begin to once again rise to the surface. Our awareness is heightened by the surrounding beauty, our creativity inspired by the newness of scenery, our curiosity piqued by the endless possibilities of activities, our imagination strengthened when given the time and space to ponder.

Too often we forget what it is like to lose our societally conditioned inhibitions. Too often we forget what it is like to play. Play, after all, involves risk. It requires that we set the phone aside, turn the computer off, ignore the clock and, then, engage in a creative, imaginative, curious act with no expectation of the outcome.

You will likely fall, you may get hurt, and it is quite possible that you will hear, “You made a mistake.” But, listen carefully, because – in the gentle whispers of His voice or from the reassurance of a friend – the words, “It’s okay\” and \”you’re still learning,” will likely follow.

In one of my new favorite books, The Artisan Soul, author Erwin McManus reminds readers that, “There is a mysterious and beautiful relationship between the masterpiece our lives can become and the world we played in as children, where we lost ourselves in our imagination.”

Play like those kids at the park. Play often. Play in the mountains or at a playground or at your kitchen table with lots of glue and play-dough and markers and construction paper. Lose yourself in your imagination. And, even after the words, “You did it!” come easily, keep playing. Chase after your next great adventure with a curious and creative heart.

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5 thoughts on “The Importance of Play”

  1. This is so cool! I love playing in the mountains. You’re right there is a connection between playing and creativity. Sometimes writing or painting can be a wonderful creative adventure. We need to unplug from electronics and have a good time. Time to get out the bike!

  2. Pingback: 12 Things Catholic Fathers Want to Say -

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