“Mama, will you play with me?”
These six words instantly snap me to attention here, now, in the present. They are usually uttered by my 5-year-old, and usually when I’m buzzing around doing something “important” like cooking, packing or cleaning the litter box.
As I’ve learned over time, play is the work of children. Their childhood zips by so quickly, I have to remember to stop doing stuff and instead just play with them, especially when they are good enough to ask.
Being present is a constant practice (and an instantly rewarding one)! Kids are the masters of this. I learn so much from them.
For two years, we lived in an apartment building, where we had to be more creative about play. We zoomed around the halls on bikes and scooters, we played “basketball” in the basement (using our arms as the hoops), we tagged and chalked and shot marbles and dressed up and built forts and did handstands.
Last spring we moved to a house, and now I have a whole yard of play infrastructure. My cousin Marcus built an amazing treehouse … including a deck, 7 windows and 2 retractable ladders. My insistence on using recycled materials spurred his creativity, resulted in gorgeous elements like a terra cotta tile roof and kept costs low (For materials, check out architectural salvage yards. My fave in the DC region is the non-profit Community Forklift).
Kids need daily exercise, of course (the NY Times Well blog recently covered the link between exercise and academic performance) but in addition, they need unstructured time to play. Dr. Jenn Berman posted on this blog a summary of the Alliance for Children study outlining the importance of play…check it out.
Now that I’m with KaBOOM! I’ll be advocating for the cause of play, including constructing playgrounds and building communities. Back in 2006 I helped KaBOOM! build the playground at my kids’ Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. Every day LAMB-PCS’s 200 students use the equipment before school, during recess and after school, a critical element of their education and an enduring testament to the powerful gift of play.