How Children and Grownups Play

by Belinda Munoz on May 26, 2010

playground twist

The other day, my son learned a new word.  The word?  Responsibility.

My reaction upon learning this was one of profound dread.  It may be because I have neurotic tendencies.  It may be because it has long been a buzz word for me, reminiscent of times when sensibleness dueled with playfulness and somehow won, leaving me with, well, very little fun.  Whatever the reason, my first thought was, oh no. Only three years old and already burdened by a grownup concept.

No, I don’t think responsibility is a bad word.  But I realize I use the word grownup to mean boring.  So, before I offend anyone, hear me out.

HOW A TYPICAL CHILD PLAYS

My son, like most toddlers, is lustful for, passionate about and in love with play.  He wakes up with only one mission to fulfill and that is to have fun playing.

When we venture outside, he finds a way to savor his every step on the sidewalk, down every block, on the way to the mecca of play: the playground.  As he scales the sidewalk, he is running as fast as he can, or singing a song, or laughing at his own silliness, or examining everything along the way that looks mildly interesting.

Once we’re at the playground, imagine what a kid is like around structures built for play.  Jump up and down?  Of course.  Swing back and forth?  For sure.  Slide down and climb up?  Yes and yes.  He makes overtures at other children and grownups, because, simply, shared playtime is fun.

When we stay indoors, the lack of a playground does not deter him.  He plays with his toys.  He plays with cookware and rolling pins and other things that aren’t toys.  And when he’s done playing with toys (and things that aren’t toys), he sets a stage, real or imaginary, and makes up scenarios, characters and stories.

And the playing continues…

By the end of the day, he, just like a typical child, will have laughed about 150 times.

HOW A TYPICAL GROWNUP PLAYS

Grownups, on the other hand, play a bit differently.  We wake up with a jumble of thoughts.  We rush around, downing venti-sized cups of caffeine, before we can muster a half-smile or a civilized half-hearted morning hello.

If we go outdoors, we tackle our lists of what to do, what errands to run and places to go.  We fill our heads with thoughts of and theories on being good people doing great things, achieving impressive feats, fulfilling impossible dreams.  For a moment, our souls stir.  And then we remember our competition.

Do we examine things that are mildly interesting along the way?  Ha!  Not a chance unless we’re on vacation (or have just read an article linking happiness and slowing down).

If we stay indoors, not much changes.  We tackle our lists of what to do, what chores need attention, what phone calls to make, what bills to pay.  If we indulge our imagination in a little make-believe, most likely, we make up worst-case scenarios, wreaking havoc on our recession lines (or is it our blood pressure?), in the name of being proactive, you know, just in case.

If we make overtures to play with other grownups, chances are these play dates are scheduled way in advance.  And when the day comes, I’m only guessing, the activities are roughly sketched out (dinner?  movie?  music?) while spontaneity will have to force itself into the moments.

And the playing stops and starts…

Sometime during the course of the day, grownups will have laughed five times at the most.

BACK TO THE WORD RESPONSIBILITY

Play, sadly, often gets squeezed out of our grownup days as we get caught up in a cycle of doing.  A cycle of responsibility that leaves little to no room for genuine, spontaneous play.

I really don’t have anything against responsibility.  It’s practical, inevitable and necessary.  It’s what we hope every person will learn when he or she grows up.

But while my son is growing up, toddling about in his tiny body, I would rather he learn the word frolicsomeness, tomfoolery or shenanigans.  Because these words make his eyes sparkle.  And this is the only shot my son gets at having a childhood.

He will grow up, just like the rest of us.  And I hope that one day, he will practice the concept of responsibility.  But only after his childhood is thoroughly drenched in play.  Long and deep enough to make it stick, with no chance of it getting beaten out of him.

Because those grownup years?  They can be long and deeply entrenched in responsibility.

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  1. How do you play?
  2. Does play make your eyes sparkle?  Does responsibility?  Is play part of our responsibility to ourselves and others?
  3. Assuming you are responsible ;-), do you remember to play regularly?
  4. What season do you think is the best season for play?
  5. Must we lose our playfulness as children as we learn to practice responsibility as grownups?

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Image by macinate

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Katie May 26, 2010 at 5:34 am

Lovely post, lovely reminder of how to never forget to be playful and also how to relate to our kids better. I see lots of people trying to tame their kids urge to play – I guess we get it beaten out of us, as you say. Being asked how I play makes me realize how little I do. I find running is like play, but I don’t play enough. I really need some lego. I paint and that feels like play because I’m just exploring and getting lost and feeling pure happiness. I’ll work on it. Sorry, play on it. Thanks for a great read.

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2 rob white May 26, 2010 at 9:37 am

Hi Belinda,
What a delightful read! As children we start our earthly journey feeling sovereign and free. We look out on the world with a consciousness of “Wow is ME!” Eventually we get bowled over by the “NO’s” offered by the world voice and go from “Wow is Me” to “woe is me.” I believe as seekers on a spiritual path our biggest aim is to regain our original nature. The way I like to “play” is to celebrate my successes along the way by having a dinner party, go to a concert, get a nice beer etc. I think this is very important to our growth and development so we do not just continue on to the next task. I continually remind myself that, I am here to experience my original nature and all of its glory.

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3 Bob Bessette May 26, 2010 at 9:41 am

Hi Belinda,
It’s nice to see your child plays outside and with non-toys as I did when I was younger. Some of the most popular playthings when I was young were pots and pans. It bothers me that a lot of young people sit at a computer to play and don’t get out into the fresh air. How do I play? Sitting with my wife after a long day and relaxing is a form of play in my mind. I play in my yard working on various projects and my wife and I build theater sets for the local high school. It is a form of play.
Try to steer your child away from playing on the computer. We’ve done that and we still haven’t allowed our youngest (freshman in high school) to text. We broke down for our eldest at college because texting is how they communicate at school. I loved the post..

Best,
Bob

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4 Eva @ EvaEvolving May 26, 2010 at 9:46 am

Oh, I love how children play. Thank you for sharing this great visual of your son, totally soaking in everything around him and letting his imagination go free.

I agree. Responsibility seems like a topic 3-year olds should have to know about. Shenanigans are much better. (And just that word makes me smile – shenanigans!)

I give my parents a lot of credit for not pushing me to get a job in high school – or really letting me when I wanted to. They reminded me I’ll have the rest of my life to work, but only a limited number of years of “childhood.” I was still able to babysit neighbor kids, etc. to make spending money. But they didn’t want me committed to shifts at the grocery store every night, struggling to keep up on homework, having to quit extracurriculars, etc.

My play? Digging in the garden, getting dirty, nurturing my plants. I love board games – Scrabble and Cribbage and Apples to Apples. And going to the water park with my husband on hot summer days!

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5 The Exception May 26, 2010 at 10:59 am

I live in high paced DC metro pressure – and kids don’t play. It is amazing to watch as we ask kids to assume schedules and activities that resemble those of young adults or even adults. They wake, rush to school, homework, activities, homework… there is no time to “play” beyond their computer screens and mobile phones.
My daughter has one activity – ballet – which is time consuming but it is her passion. When she isn’t dancing, she is a ten year old creative choreographer, an explorer in the woods finding the different skat and tracks, a famous designer putting together outfits from different periods of history, creating interesting concoctions on the balcony or in the kitchen, or even building forts from pillows. She sings and jumps and plays and notices. I refuse to ask her to be anything more than a child – with the passion for play – as adult status will arrive quickly. I want her to play as long as she can and take that love of it into her adult life.

I play with her but with not as much exuberance… one of us has to carry all the stuff!

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6 Leslie May 26, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Belinda, I’m happy you wrote about grownup things today too; your post made me feel less like one! I still like to play – games, discs, bocce – and on dates with other adult friends, I do my best to make fun, playful conversation. Before we were parents, we’d have days out at the horse races or in a nearby state park. And before too long, I hope to get back to some of those things that are child- AND adult-friendly.

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7 Rudri May 26, 2010 at 2:31 pm

I love watching my daughter play. Unbridled enthusiasm and a free spirit are her companions.
I love board games, book clubs, and good conversation. My play lacks spontaneity, but I still enjoy it.

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8 rebecca @ altaredspaces May 26, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Like Eva, I love the game Apples to Apples. I love games period. I love it when people play jokes on me or laugh at me or tease me. I’m that person who laughs at EVERYONE’s jokes. I do laugh a lot. I have a VERY loud laugh. Too loud, actually. And I find myself covering my mouth a lot.

This post is making me think about that mouth covering. It’s maybe not that I laugh too much or too loud, but that other grown ups laugh too little or too small.

My laughter, while overly large (and I really do try to lessen it!) does, lighten the mood in a room. When laughter is introduced into a situation everything feels like sunshine. (Except me, I feel like hiding because I laughed too loud!)

You’ve helped me see things in a new way. I’m going to be proud of laughing big. Like a kid who makes everyone feel young and silly and unbridled.

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9 Keith May 26, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Hi Belinda,

Super post you’ve written! It is something I have to consciously choose at times but I love to keep that child-like wonder and that silly playfulness incorporated into my everyday. I refuse to live in anticipation of the next holiday, vacation or weekend. Life is NOW and NOW happens everyday. I want to wake up each day and smile at the opportunities that await me. It may take a little practice to get back what so many of us left behind in childhood, but man is it worth it!

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10 Justine May 26, 2010 at 7:45 pm

If I have to think long and hard about this one, then the answer is probably apparent that I don’t play as much as I like to, or as much as I should. I try to find time to relax, unwind, but play? I do when my daughter’s awake and I play right alongside her. Does that count?

You’ve given me something important to think about – and perhaps even something to remedy about my life. I love laughing and I feel I do quite a bit, but I’d like to know what part of that comes from play…

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11 Amber May 26, 2010 at 10:10 pm

As usual, this is a very well written and though provoking post.

I do allow myself to play. I wouldn’t call it planned because it usually occurs when I am hanging out on the floor with my kids. It seems that when I sit down and actually play with them, the giggles come out naturally.

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12 Belinda Munoz May 27, 2010 at 10:09 pm

I can just picture you with your little angels giggling away, so sweet.

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13 Barbara Swafford May 27, 2010 at 12:53 am

Hi Belinda,

What a great post, with a great message. Children at play are fun to watch. Not only do they see things differently than we adults do, but they seem to take more time exploring and questioning. Oh, how much we can learn from them.

You words are a good reminder for me to be more spontaneous. Too often I get trapped with my “to do” lists and forget life is to be lived, not necessarily managed 100% of the time.

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14 Christine LaRocque May 27, 2010 at 4:10 am

Really enjoyed this. It’s so obvious and yet not right? Probably because we ARE so wrapped up in own busy lives it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees (is that how the saying goes?).

“But only after his childhood is thoroughly drenched in play. ” Spectacular! Amazing the lessons we learn from our children. I’m going to feature this post as the Single Shot on my FB page today. I really think we all need to be reminded of this, not necessarily for our children’s sake, but for our own.

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15 Belinda Munoz May 27, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Thanks for the feature on FB, Christine. I love the Single Shot concept.

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16 Davina May 27, 2010 at 8:24 am

I compare kids and adults when I’m travelling on transit. I used to ride the school bus to school and it was out and out bedlam. Lots of talking and laughing. Much different on a public transit bus filled with adults. Everyone is staring at their books, newspapers or Blackberrys. Funny too, when I’m on the bus I start to get annoyed if someone talks too much. 🙂 Adults take themselves way too seriously. Though, as children all our needs are taken care of. I miss the good old days.

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17 Phil - Less Ordinary Living May 27, 2010 at 9:57 am

Belinda –

A wonderful contrast you’ve drawn between the joyful world of innocence and the buttoned up adult world. I love your description about gulping down venti lattes before we can speak – sounds familiar to me! I was with a client this week and we decided to go on a long walk. Halfway through, he noticed a rose bush and we walked over to smell them. It smelt sweet and afterwards he moved to a lighter and more constructive place. I try to bring play and fun into everything I do – if it isn’t fun, what it the point?

Thanks for pointing out the need for laughter too! I’m going to aim to laugh at least 50 times a day from now on! Great post.

Thanks,

Phil

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18 Belinda Munoz May 27, 2010 at 9:59 pm

I sort of kept track of how often I laughed today and it was nowhere near that of a typical child. I hope to do better tomorrow.

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19 Wilma Ham May 27, 2010 at 5:35 pm

For me the word to pursue is joyful and to aim for that in whatever I do. I cannot bring back the innocent perception children have, but I can be aware that I go about my day joyfully. xox Wilma

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20 Tony Single May 27, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Belinda, my very nature demands that I play all the time. I may have said it here or elsewhere before, but I tend to get bored very very easily. Playing, or turning everything into a game, helps me to engage with whatever it is I have to do whenever I don’t get to play… if that makes sense. Doesn’t always work because work is… well, just work, no matter how fun you try to make it. Still, I like to try, because who wants to be a buttoned up adult? Bleh.

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21 BigLittleWolf May 27, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Today, for the first time in nearly a year, I closed my computer at noon, left the house (not pertaining to running parent errands or any of the other unending responsibilities) – and I left. I drove not too far, then walked, then took myself to an afternoon movie (I never do that), then wandered some more, had coffee, chatted with strangers (fun!!), wandered more, flirted (even more fun!), tried on shoes (TOO fun), and eventually wandered my way home.

No plan. Just “being.” My kind of playtime. All too rare. And so easy. Sort of. 🙂

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22 Belinda Munoz May 27, 2010 at 9:53 pm

A matinee, chatting with strangers, flirting and sampling foot candy — sounds like the perfect afternoon, BLW!

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23 Nicki May 28, 2010 at 6:05 am

Play!?! I love to play. Whether that play is painting or snapping photos or hiking or reading or….the list is long and one of my favorite things to do is add new play ways to it.

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24 Jenny May 30, 2010 at 12:45 pm

What a beautiful post!
It’s so true, we don’t laugh enough.
I play most days. I wander in the woods with my camera, (or without) I lose myself in my favorite music. I try to make strangers laugh.
Still, just because we’re grown ups doesn’t mean we can’t make life more fun!
Thanks for the reminder.

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