There is a lot we can learn from kids. For my master in social work degree, I am completing my spring practicum at a pediatric mental health organization, and the kids who go there know how to build forts to feel safe, they know the best way to go down the slide is on a blanket because its the fastest, they know how to ask for a hug when they’re sad, they know that plants can burp if you move their leaves, and they know that the world can still be delightful. I am learning from them that play can be a form of resistance in a world that tries to make us serious, hardened, isolated, compliant, productive, and exhausted if only we can remember how to enjoy ourselves and each other.
Saturday mornings are always busy at the organization. I usually get in around 8 a.m. and chug some coffee before kiddos start arriving at 8:30 a.m. Most of the time I am still tired from a full week of classes, multiple part time jobs, homework, and other activities. Things can get repetitive with such a busy schedule. Each day I know how much time all of my responsibilities require and the mental energy involved in completing each of them. However, Saturday mornings are a little different. After adequately caffeinating, I spend the first hour and a half with one of three siblings from the same family while the other two siblings are in therapy. They rotate through time with me while waiting for their turn in play therapy, occupational therapy, or speech & language therapy. I have gotten to know this group of siblings fairly well since January and look forward to being with them each week.
One Saturday morning, Louise*, the oldest of the three, said she had a secret to tell me. When I leaned in to hear what she had to say, she tickled the inside of my ear with a feather! Her wit, my surprise, and the joy and silliness of it all immediately brought a smile to my face. I laughed with genuine delight at having been fooled and soaked up the shared amusement between us. My first thought, and one I shared with Louise, was that I wanted to play the same trick on my friends because I found it so funny. She was excited by this prospect and gave me a bright blue feather so I could share her trick with others. This whole interaction lasted only a few minutes, but it jolted me out of my routine and the experience I expected to have that morning. Children can do that. They can remind me that I am not here just to make it through each day. They remind me that everything doesn’t have to be so serious all the time. They remind me that when I’m at my best I can be silly and not worry about what other people think. They remind me that I should play more often because it’s fun and that is reason enough to do it.
When I started this practicum, I had to confront the reality that I had forgotten how to play. Through interactions with kids and other therapists in the organization, I began to understand how my adult life had conditioned me to do what I thought I “should” do, to choose “productive” hobbies for my free time, and to see any activity that did not result in learning as frivolous. I had become inhibited by society’s expectation for what is acceptable. Of course I know how to invite my friends over for a game night with structured activities, rules, and winners and losers. But I had forgotten what it was like to pop bubbles with my elbow, to decorate myself with colorful pipe cleaners, and to throw wet newspaper at the wall just because it makes a cool sound. I had forgotten the joy of playing, and I don’t believe I’m alone in that.
Incorporating play into your every day might seem uncomfortable at first. As a society, we have come to view enjoyment, pleasure, and play as novelty. We either pick up our phones to record someone dancing in their car or ask people questions like “why” or “what for” if someone tells us they like to sit upside down on the chair in their living room. It’s easy to ignore or disregard the “that would be fun” thought because there is no purpose or reason to an action. And that is what play as a form of resistance is all about: not needing a reason. In a society that demands explanations for our every move, playing just for the fun of it is radical.
During my JV year in San Jose, CA, my house spent a lot of time talking about how we can go against the societal forces that cause suffering. We shared information relevant to our placement sites and how the rest of the house could get involved with each others’ work. We engaged in weekly and monthly challenges in order to practice new ways of thinking and doing everyday tasks. And sometimes I forget this, but we had a lot of fun. We decorated our house with every Christmas decoration we could find, drew pictures on the first floor bedroom wall, and made a music video just because. Throughout the year, having fun was just as important as everything else in being able to imagine a more just world. Having fun added another dimension to what we were fighting for because it reminded us we wanted all people to be able to experience freedom, joy, and pleasure.
Playing is not just for kids. It’s for everyone wanting to seek out the goodness and brightness in life. Play connects us to ourselves and others. Play unburdens us from the mounting pressures of life. Play changes the way we see possibility and opportunity. Play is valuable as a social justice pursuit because everyone deserves the chance to relax, have fun, and enjoy.
(For some more ideas and their take on balancing work, life, and leisure, check out Cam’s post about Simple Living Recreation Tactics.)
*Client names have been changed for confidentiality purposes.