I stepped out the back door, maltipoo on my heals and tabouli salad in hand, and the sound of children whispered in my ears. As I descended the stairs to the grass with my bare feet, I noticed a whistle, squealing, chatter–the general sound of recess. There’s a an elementary school a few blocks away from me and the merriment of the children was carrying on the breeze that hit my bare shoulders as I strolled around my yard enjoying my homemade lunch.
I have two kids in middle school where there is no time for recess. If they have perfect behavior they get to enjoy “Fresh Air Friday” where they have the privilege of walking around the track or sitting in the shade for 20 minutes once a week. I used to hear a lot about how there is so little time to get all the work done in elementary school–to cover all the standards, assess, test, and report. The arts were being cut from schools to allow more time for the more academic classes. I read stories of recess being cut or reduced…for elementary school kids.
Medication of young children is on the rise. Behavior problems. Depression. Obesity. In children.
But I’m not here to talk about a flawed educational system. I want to talk about recess. I want to talk about play. I want to talk about free-form creative expression.
When I stepped outside and heard these children doing what children do, I thought: when do we stop getting recess? When does permission stop being granted to us to take a break and play? And who gets to make that call?
Is it when our self expression becomes less imaginative or physical? Like when we’d prefer to take a nap or read a book as a preteen? Or when we want to just hang out with our friends talking about boys and taking selfies? That’s just a waste of time. It’s not a productive use of your time. You could be doing something ot bring that grade up or improve your skills on the violin or your batting average. When is play no longer an acceptable use of our time?
As a grown-up, what does play look like for you? All too often it requires a few drinks or the pop of a pill, maybe an ice cream binge or a shopping spree. Who are you expecting to give you permission? As adults, moving our bodies becomes about burning calories. Doing things “just for the fun of it” takes on an air of irresponsibility or immaturity. Our left brain, the logical, orderly, analytical side is so stimulated by the doing nature of our society that it needs help from external sources to calm down enough to engage our right brain, the creative, out-of-the-box, playful side. And that side is so underutilized that that voice in our head starts saying: “I don’t even know how to be! What I do know is that you still have a list of things to get done, and checking those boxes will feel good. And then I can relax.”
And the medication of adults. Behavior problems (anger, road rage, impatience, fear, abusive language or actions…). Depression. Obesity. In adults. How to we expect our children to create something better for themselves?
My recess was looking in my fridge and pulling out fresh and colorful ingredients to assemble in a salad bowl, then squeezing some lime in a glass jar with white balsamic vinegar, and plucking some fresh basil from the pot on my deck. My playful side was engaged as I explored my backyard with the bottoms of my feet and my eyes, noticing the hummingbirds and the bees. I released all expectations for myself as I swung gently in my hammock noticing the contrast of the emerald treetops against the indigo sky and marveling at the beauty that God has created that is all around me in every moment.
We need more play. All of us. Organic, holistic, free-form, unencumbered. I invite you to look at what this would mean for you, what that would look like. Start by declaring one thing you’ll do before the end of the month just for fun. Make it happen. Be present as you’re doing it. Engage your senses. Quiet your mind.
Life is not about the to do list. And joyfully being should not be an afterthought or a reward. Let’s create a new way of life for our own wellbeing.
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