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A life-enhancing asset is the ability to play at any age

November 9, 2018

Students in Stephanie Hill's after-school yoga club play with "Bob," a character they built out of yoga blocks. From left are Annie Smith, Julie Blatt, Nicolas Mozafari, Izzy Styer and Lily Casto.

“Play is the absence of stress.” — Poole

“It’s OK to be absurd, ridiculous and downright irrational at times; silliness is the sweet syrup that helps us swallow the bitter pills of life.” — Richelle E. Goodrich

“Mrs. Hill, may we play with the yoga blocks and build ‘Bob’ before we start?”

I looked up from the teaching notes I was reviewing to see a fairy-like student of my yoga club imploring me with her large brown eyes.

“Of course, this is snack time. We have about 10 minutes before we start. Handle them with care please. They are not made of the most sturdy material,” I added with a chuckle, thinking of how the students are known to karate-chop “Bob” after they build him.

Yoga club is for students, grades 5-8, as well as any staff/faculty members of the school in which I work. We meet one time per week for an hour and 20 or so minutes after the regular school day. The first 10 to 15 minutes is an open time to allow students, and any staff members that might also be joining us, to have time to change clothes, enjoy a snack if desired, chat a bit, decompress, and, well, even play before I guide a more formal, but still somewhat not-tooserious, yoga practice.

It is during those unstructured moments that students are free to be kids. I never know exactly what they are going to do during this time, and I am often reminded of my days teaching kindergarten in which my co-workers and I purposely planned time to allow the 5-and 6-years-

old to play with new materials before directing their use in more formal, so-called educational ways. Watching these now 10-to 13-year-old students giggle, play with what they consider fun yoga poses, dance, and, of course, build with yoga blocks to create “Bob,” holding a variation of mermaid yoga pose, makes my soul smile — no matter how tired I am. I so enjoy seeing kids using their imagination to simply play.

Recently, a coworker/friend of mine and I were engaged in a quick conversation after school regarding the levels of stress and anxiety we now see in many of our students as well as our own children. It seems as if kids don’t have much free time to play — play without teams, without electronics, without extracurricular lessons. In fact, we drifted off into our own memories of childhood play-Swing sets and hula-hoops, Roller skates and 45-records Spinning our favorite beats.

Swing sets and hula-hoops, Roller skates and 45-records Spinning our favorite beats.

Badminton, jarts, and croquet. Company was over last night — Play it our own way now.

Baseball bat not used for sport.

Might be a sword or a gun — Depending upon the tale spun.

Stories told, roles assigned; Funerals for butterflies and birds — You got to be preacher the last time!

Banana seat bicycle for him, Pink Schwinn with Flowered basket for her.

Kick ball in the circle,

Better not kick the ball in that yard.

Rules might change, depending on players, Hope he doesn’t lose his temper once more.

Frisbee’s on the roof again — Why d’ja throw it there?

Can we make a fort out of that box?

Summer sun, autumn chill. Wintertime stands still.

Spring car washes.

Big Red Machine’s on the radio.

Rook on the porch when it rains. Go outside and play.

Stay until called for supper. Childhood memories of long ago.

I wonder, how many of my students have ever run around at night in the late spring catching fireflies as the dew soaks their sneakers? Do they ever get to ride their bikes around the neighborhood poppin* wheelies and riding with no hands as the wind whips all around their faces? What about playing neighborhood pick-up games of kickball, touch football, run-down, or monkey-in-the middle? Have they ever hung out on their front (or back) porch just to watch it rain?

What about swinging with head held back until it feels like you’ll puke; and then, laughing at the feeling of butterflies in the stomach? Or have they experienced that older cousin or neighbor who will play part friend, part devil, and push them on a swing high enough for the pusher to run under? What about the rush of merry-go-rounds that the biggest kid of the grade pushes as fast as he or she can, then hops on at the very last breath-taking second! Then, there was tetherball, jumping-ropes, marbles, and pick-up-jacks — and all the different ways to define “King” or “Queen” in grade school.

I can even recall, shock of all shocks, going outside on one recess while snow fell down around us. I clearly remember Mrs. Jones, one of the beloved first-grade teachers at my school, leading us (students) around the playground in a hand-held chain, snow falling all around, and calling it a game of “snake.” There were slicky-slides of all heights, monkey bars of all styles, and even a few gymnastics-like apparatus that gradually began to be withdrawn from public and school playgrounds alike, year after year.

Like the erosion of one’s favorite beach shoreline, you don’t really notice the changes until you see time-lapse pictures spanning the years, and little by little it is revealed the beachfront ebbing away, in the same way the notions and toys of childhood play have also ebbed away. To be honest, I suppose I have begun to reach an age of introspection as I begin to identify all the vast change I have witnessed over the decades — especially with regards to “play.” As a person who, depending upon the definition used, is either the very last of the Baby Boomer generation, or the very first of Generation X, the changes I have observed, and have experienced first-hand are, at times, nearly unbelievable. I cannot image what my parents must feel with their additional two decades of experience. And while change is an inevitable constant, the need for playtime, or at the very least unstructured, down time, I believe, will always be a need for all ages, but especially for kids.

While preparing to write this piece, I found the following quote by Alan W. Watts, “This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”

Maybe that is the lesson my yoga club kids were, and are, teaching me. Play is always available, and is always a choice. It may look differently now, but that doesn’t mean it still can’t be play — it’s all about the attitude brought to it. Even more so, maybe that’s why my brain “played” with this idea — to beautifully illustrate that I, too, am playing each week with a screen-full of words, hoping to discover “playmates” with whom these words will resonate.

Stephanie HIM Is a freelance writer and a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School In Huntington. She Is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hlll992@20omlnternet.net. Or you can check out her website, stephslmply.com.

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