Today I reflected and wept reading a beautifully crafted blog entry by a new favorite thinker, writer and “reflector” Carol D. O’Dell, author of the lovely blog called “Risk. Play. Create. My Search for Authenticity.” "Why do we need to play? Because it’s healing. It’s like re calibrating your brain, your soul and your body.We need to play in order to rest, in order to let go, in order to process. We need to play like we need to breathe. It feels good. It fills us with more than oxygen. It fills us with hope," writes this blogger and artist.
A friend of mine and fellow early childhood educator, talks about her constant thrifting and scavenging for cool, unusual, found, recycled, and re-purposed materials for learning and discovery as her "play!" I have since adopted that line (with permission.) I play because I am. I am because I play. I try to think and live playfully, to play with mind, body and soul. (And to work the same way!)
As a child I loved to: (1) nap, read, play with my younger sister, cuddle with my dog Teddy under my beloved willow tree; (2.) build forts, huts and dens in the woods or by the side of the barn with my sister; (3.) have sleepovers with my Italian cousins (I grew up in Italy) who were usually sent to stay with us because their parents thought they needed an "attitude adjustment" from my American mother, but really just needed to play! We put on elaborate plays for my parents, ran around in the hay fields, and tried to make it through the night in a pup tent.
I liked to: (4.) make perfumes and potions out of natural materials harvested from our property (perhaps I should not mention my sister's and my misguided and inquisitive tween attempts to dry and smoke what we thought was surely 'weed' being grown by one of our neighbors!); (5.) set up farmers' markets and grocery stores and play restaurant with my little sister - our multi-colored gravel courtyard provided ample diversion and open-ended play materials. Red rocks were meat, yellow ones were cheese and white ones were eggs. Add in some fallen fruit and picked veggies and we were in business! (6.) adopt lost turtles and hedgehogs as pets and chase wild rabbits; (7.) throw rotten persimmons at the side of the barn, when my mother wasn't watching (shhh! don't tell!) (8.) explore the woods with my spinster neighbor, my sister, my dad and our faithful dog; (9.) play house and school with my childhood friends and neighbors - Ornella, Monica, Laura, Barbara and Sara - and my best friend from elementary school Aurora, and our fabulous housekeeper's daughter, Michela; (10.) mostly I just loved being a KID!
How do I play now, as an adult? Well, first of all I work with children and that means that mostly every day I get to flex my play muscles (mental and physical!) I read and absorb info at a voracious pace and playfully try to connect the big and little concepts I read about to my life, to my practice as a teacher, to my personal and professional growth, and to just being human. I, like my afore-mentioned “playful” friend, thrift, scavenge, bargain-hunt, recycle, re-use, and re-purpose materials for and in my classroom and school, for friends and fellow-teachers and for my home. I think creatively – that’s my mental play. And, I advocate, support and work to spread the message of open-ended play in the lives of children and adults by working with the (San Francisco) Bay Area Coalition for Play. Check out our brand-spanking new website (still a work in progress) at www.bayareacoalitionforplay.org and/or “like” us on Facebook!
To paraphrase the Beastie Boys, who very recently lost a gifted and valued member, "You gotta fight for your right to PLAY!"