Monday, July 7, 2014

National Play Days

And forget nt that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
-Khalil Gibran

An oversized beach ball whizzed past my head as I walked through a field filled with forts, blocks, sandboxes, hopscotch boards, kite making stations, craft tables and every type of ball imaginable. While vacationing in Dublin, I happened into Merrion Park, which was transformed for three hours yesterday into a kid’s paradise in honor of Ireland’s National Playday.

Finola Burns spun a hula-hoop around her 6-year old son as her two
other boys explored some nearby games.

“Play is very important for their imagination, exercise, social skills. It’s the only way to learn, really,” Burns said.

Dublin educators and city leaders agree. Dublin held it’s first organized playday in Merrion Park in 2005 as a way to comply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. UNCRC Article 31 declares that children “have a right to play.”

“We are trying to make this as unstructured as possible to promote free play. We want to compensate for kids not having the same freedoms we had growing up to simply go out and play,” said Linda Clarke, one of the city’s organizers of the event.

Since Dublin launched its play day, Ireland’s Department of Children adopted a national playdate on the first Sunday in July. England hosts its national playday on the first Wednesday in August, while Canada celebrates a national outdoor playday in mid-June. In the fall, some U.S. cities coordinate play events to coincide with Nickelodeon Network’s declared worldwide play day. Nickelodeon, Teen Nick, Nick Jr., and Nick Toons run a public awareness campaign that concludes with three hours of no TV programming to encourage kids to get outside and play.

Which is all very well and good that the idea is catching on, and at the same time, a bit sad. It’s a testament to how far we have strayed that we need public awareness campaigns and acts of the United Nations and designated three-hour blocks of time set aside- just to play.

“The schools here are recognizing the importance of play and increasing physical education from two days a week to every day,” Burns said as the rain sent families running for the story telling tent and threatened to cut the three-hour event short.

I didn’t have time to ask Burns about her own play habits. As I pulled my jacket over my head, I couldn’t help but think that it’s not just a child’s right to play- it’s a human right. Until adults make play a priority for themselves, it won’t be much more than a parent’s responsibility; another activity to schedule and supervise for our children.

Since I began this life experiment to be more childlike, I have come to recognize that every quality that I admired about my kids stemmed from their natural playfulness: imagination, curiosity, simplicity, enthusiasm, even childlike optimism. The experiment taught me that play is not something meant to be outgrown, any more than we are meant to stop learning at a certain age. Even though I set out to emulate the best part of my kids, the experiment heightened my awareness that my children are constantly mirroring my behavior and beliefs. So if I want them to retain their “kidness” and reclaim a piece of mine, I need to play. Often.

Call it being more childlike. Call it basic self-care. I call it fun. Here are three quick and easy ways to incorporate more play into your life.

1.     Give yourself permission to play. You need time for you. Not just salon appointments or exercise classes, your soul needs free time to explore, reflect and create.

2.     Brainstorm a bucket list of playdates for yourself. The items don’t have to require goals to achieve or expensive trips. It can be taking in that library exhibit on W.B. Yeats, taking a photography class or checking out the new Thai restaurant on your lunch break armed with crossword puzzles. The idea is to get yourself thinking about things you enjoy doing, then do it! It is the most satisfying to-do list you will ever scratch off.

3.     Make time to play. Tuesday is my weekly playdate. Life frequently interferes or the activity I want to do is not offered on Tuesday. When that happens, I simply reschedule within the same week. Beyond playdates, seek out impromptu opportunities to play. Maybe that looks like taking your shoes off and finding a cozy spot to read. Maybe it’s jumping in a puddle instead of avoiding it.

No playground required. The world is a playground and everyday has the potential to be a play day.

Do you play?

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