Monday, June 27, 2011

Play On...

“in Just spring when the world is mud-
luscious”… beloved poet e. e. cummings writes
“and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

I first heard this poem when I was in my early teens and I immediately fell in love with it. It may have been because it was an easy poem to memorize and recite or maybe it was because it seemed simple. As I approach fifty, Cummings words touch me in a very different way, often with sadness and a yearning for the freedom that my childhood held. Simplicity, would be the last word that I would use to describe this rich poem.

For children, play is work. I love to see how young ones delve into their play in order to make sense of the world around them. How they slip into absolute freedom and joy with their play and then fall into bed, peacefully with utmost satisfaction for a day well spent. Children dig in the dirt with intensity of purpose and walk away when they are finished not when the “job” is completed. When working with youngsters, it has always been important to me to allow them to exhaust themselves with a particular toy or activity before giving it up to someone else or giving it up for something else. I never liked the idea that a child should have a toy for a set time and then pass it on to the next. I have had some accuse me of not insisting on sharing when in actuality I did, and do agree with sharing but only if a child is finished with the particular toy that is desired by another.  When my son was five, we bought him his first stomper rocket. It was a surprise gift that I had put in the trailer and was going to bring it out when we were camping. That particular trip, and along with a group of friends, we arrived in the pouring rain and set up the trailer. A few of the kids went into our trailer to play games and when the rain lifted, three other fellas, who had found the rocket, asked if they could play with it. “Of course.” I said, assuming Max would be included. Max was considerably younger. Max never said a word to me all the while knowing that I always let him play until he was finished with something. Finally, after a few hours, he asked me if he could play with his new rocket too. It was the only time I remember interrupting and asking others to “share” the toy. 
Kids in the Sand...
 Today, my daughter Jillian, begins her summer vacation and Max begins his summer job. At age fourteen and sixteen, I want them to remember the importance of play and although I do not want to schedule it in, I want them to value its importance and I wonder how I will continue to do this.
As an adult I have, at times, forgotten how important it is to play. I have a tendency to delve into the work, that is no longer play, and get fussed by deadlines and agendas. Although I specifically run for my heart and take time for activities like golfing and skiing, I wonder about the kind of play that young children immerse themselves in like skipping and swinging.
As I type this, my sixteen year old Max is figuring out the helmet camera that I just won while fourteen year old Jillian puts together a new Lego® creation.
And so I ask you,
“when the world is puddle-wonderful
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
do you play?
e. e. schaffner


  1. Ellyn, I love this. I would build on what you said by saying that playing is motivated by a person's genius. When one gets older, deadlines can be respected as an essential part of the activity, just as someone building a sandcastle at the water's edge learns to respect the reality that the hole they dug will fill up with water inexorably. No amount of scooping will empty it. Raising children, teaching a class and running a school is hard work, but what makes it play is if your motivation comes from your motoric core. In other words, if you love it, it is play, even though sometimes it is hard.
    Do what you love and you will play for life (and that includes honoring the requirements of the environment.) That might include (depending on the age of the child) adding the dimension that someone else wants to play with the toy--now life has gotten more complicated. It doesn't have to become work at this point. You can still make it play.
    Love this blog!!!

  2. Well thank you so much Rick for your expertise and input. I love what you say about loving our work and so it becomes play and certainly children's play can also be difficult at times. Your blogposts resonate with me as well and I am always excited to see a new one. Play on!