We’ve spent a lot of time this year preparing for play this AP Month: thinking about play, the value, the importance, the research, what to play, modeling play, challenges to play, who has something to share about play, and working to bring all of that to you as we celebrate family and attachment parenting.
So I’ve had play on the brain, with constant memories of play from my childhood bubbling up, so I share these real life experiences with you as perhaps some fun ideas for you as you celebrate AP Month with your own families. Now, keep in mind, as a parent of three, I cannot even come close to providing such a charmed childhood, so I also share my own experiences as a tribute to my own mother and father, and the example of playfulness I try to pass on to my children.
My mother, a school nurse, and my father, a farmer, entrepreneur, basketball coach, and teacher worked hard and did not have money for expensive trips or the latest toys but they loved to play. Playing with them meant abundant life for me and my three siblings, as:
- Our father built us a treehouse in the orchard and climbed up and threw crab apples over the sides with us. Many adventures were planned and carried out from that treehouse. Later, he also built a stilt house in the side yard with leftover materials from replacing the old farmhouse roof, and we helped.
- We played basketball on a court our dad poured cement inside one side of the barn for hours on end. It was replete with basketball goals at each end and smaller goal on one side for our little sister. Dad would stop working in the barn and play h-o-r-s-e with us.
- Dad turned the hay field into a full fledged baseball diamond, with a backstop, helping me learn to fastpitch and my brother to be a catcher. Extended family would visit from out of state and we would have all-out softball games. Friends came to visit and dad taught us to play with ghost men, or he played hot box (pickle to some of you) with us. Mom and Dad together coached our girls’ softball team and supported us all through the years of sports.
- Playing tetherball that Dad put up in the side yard was fun and also a time for deep or casual conversations bounced back and forth.
- Halloween was a blast because mom had so much fun with it. She would usually make our costumes, scheming some time beforehand or creatively patching together the character we wanted to be. She planned a “haunted”house in our garage for all the neighborhood children when we lived in the suburbs. When we were older, they would invite our classmates out to the farm for a bonfire, s’mores, hayrides, and hot cider.
- Mom would do imitations of characters like the tooth fairy, or um, the incredible hulk, and teach us little songs that only we would be privy to, passed down from my grandmother. She and Dad would give our magic shows and other play de jeur an audience.
- Our parents loved animals and we had a slow white pony named White Lightning and his best friend, a goat named Jawas from Star Wars, six bunnies that our dad built a low fence around the yard so we could play with them, a pond he restored that held turtles, a muskrat, fish, and other creatures. Mom and dad would walk us down the road and help us go fishing and catch crawdads, and the minnows were why mom never could keep a strainer in the kitchen.
- Our parents took us on adventures, vacations that led to unexpected places, and we took in all the odd sites along the way, camping there and back, oh mosquitoes and all.
- We played games like rummy, aggravation, scrabble, and monopoly.
- Dad made home renovations like they were play time, and mom made wallpapering the living room in paisley one of the most fun and playful memories I have–how she invited me to “Take a paisley to lunch” still cracks us up. A cold morning with no heat was just a reason to make a fort of sleeping bags. Saturday morning was time to watch cartoons together in bed.
- Dad sang a line from a song, some Elvis perhaps, to my mother or us kids, appropriate for the moment and I know these old songs still come to mind at just the right time for me and my siblings.
- And for good measure, I also remember washing dishes, folding clothes, dusting and vacuuming, hoeing beans, feeding animals, cleaning the pony’s stall, and when older, mowing the lawn.
Our parents went through some really tough times in their lives, the loses of loved ones, moves to new communities, the loss of some of their dreams, much hard work, but they remained lighthearted and attuned to each of us, and this is how I remember my childhood. I believe play was something they enjoyed as much as we did and with our love for us, it came easily for them.
I know my brothers and my sister, all incredibly amazing, creative, talented and successful adults, engage in this same playful loving with their children–making forts, go carts, dressing up, wrestling, singing and goofing around together, LEGO masterpieces built together, and car track navigating the living room floor. We’re all especially lucky, though, because we have help–the pros we learned from are still at it.
Now, settled in the historic district, in a home my mother keeps in anticipation of visits by 12 grandchildren, there are toys, games, cookie baking and gingerbread house making plans, books to read, and holiday decorations selected to amuse them. Dad has already put up a basketball goal about 5 feet off the ground and built a tree house in the backyard to hold them all. Then, later, there will be plans to play at the hands-on museum with their grandchildren, and then they will ask to visit his Johnny Appleseed Museum for some fun and play time.
Happy AP Month!
How was your childhood playful?