P is for Playfulness

500 Words On….Playfulness.

Flying play on a giant jumping pillow, fall 2011.


This morning Annalise came to us, playing a game of Filly Needs to Cross the Raging Rivers to Get to Her Mommy!” All of Annalise’s games involve exclamation points – she is a passionate soul.

The game began at about 1pm on a Monday – most children Annalise’s age are in school at that hour, following a schedule built around  curriculum and lesson plans, and with little room for individual passions.




Learning play with stuffed intestines, Journey Through the Body, spring 2011.


She was the filly who had made it across the Raging Rivers to me,  with two very wet legs that troubled her until I, her mommy, licked them dry (no, not really!), We had a nickering and nuzzling session together as we celebrated her victorious conquest of the powerful waters.






Just then,  a mountain lion appeared!

Pattern and magnet play, artfully explored. 2010ish, I think, by Annalise, then about 5.

I assured her we were okay, as I happened to be a were- mountain lion.  I roared fiercely to warn the stalking predator, and Lise discovered that she was  a were-lynx kitten who began with a tough little meow and then found her roar, too, until we frightened the marauder away with our sheer power!

Tthe play morphed into a snuggle,  and I read her the remaining four stories in her Mad About Madeline book (“Madeline’s Rescue”; “Madeline and the Gypsies”; “Madeline in London”, and “Madeline’s Christmas”).

Butterfly play - antennae self-created from giant pipe cleaners, spring 2011, age 6.5.

She wanted the written for adults notes, Introduction, and the Origins of Madeline read in their entirety, too…

…Which evolved into a tickling and giggling session that lasted for about 10 minutes before we both went on to do other things, filled up with happy companionship and unbounded energy…..

I believe today’s fun stemmed from her play with Crayola Paint’n’Play Ponies , where she loves to color, name, and decorate a whole herd of mares and their little fillies, narrating their stories as she creates.

Sudsy "salon" play, summer 2011, age 7.


When I think of how  school as it  currently exists  might fairly easily be changed to accommodate the types and methods of learning that suit children best, my mind turns  to play.

Children learn best through play – and so do adults.

But not the “play” we’ve come to accept as normal – sports, classes, activities,clubs, or any form of play orchestrated and directed by an adult.

Mini-marshmallow/toothpick construction play; Jeremiah, age 8, winter 2010.

Children were meant, as all mammal young were, to make sense of their world by interacting with it through free play they initiate and direct.

To the extent that schools seat children in groups of the teacher’s choosing, to the extent that their day is planned with no alternatives possible, to the degree that the items in the classroom  have arbitrary conditions upon their use, children are not free to play as they choose.



Independence Day at Saratoga National Historical Park (the "turning point" of the Revolution). Our British officer was 4 days from turning 6, July 4, 2010.


To the extent that certain colors, activities, learning, or play are forbidden; to the extent that children’s activities are known as work, rampant imagination is discouraged, and teachers decide readiness for this set of materials or that lesson; – to that extent, free play and the learning that comes with it – the random, chaotic, unpredictable growth that can never be taught, only grasped on one’s own – cannot exist.

 The most vital parts of learning – relevance and personal capability – suffer, and the result is likely to be a decrease in self-motivation, creativity, ingenuity, and adaptability – all things that children gain, with great joy and a natural ease, through  being allowed as much time as they need, when they need it, to play as they choose.

Cryptic word play by 5 year old Annalise, using kindling wood Jim had just chopped. AXAXA, baby!

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