We often talk about play as it relates to learning, something that is certainly important for all ages. But there is a “softer” side to play that I think we sometimes forget about. Children form friendships through their play. Adults build some of their best connections and memories through play. Play binds us together. Play binds us across generations.
My children are now 31 and 26 but there are toys that I see in the stores and immediately I am taken back to their childhood. I am taken back to hours of building with Legos, days filled with building forts with chairs and blankets and filling them with baby dolls and Matchbox cars, and to playing games lying on our stomachs in the living room. I am taken back to playing Teenage Mutant Turtles with my son, Clint, and Barbie in the backyard with my daughter, Karlyn. Some of my best memories of my children’s growing up years are associated with play.
This year I was so excited when I found a set of building toys to buy for my granddaughter, Kayla, for Christmas (don’t worry, she is only three and won’t be reading this!). This set of big building materials is almost like a set my kids had when they were little. They literally spent hours together building things like houses with this building set. But my son particularly loved this set so when I found this new set I knew it was perfect to send to his daughter for Christmas. As a child he not only built houses with his sister, but he built cars for them to “drive” around the neighborhood and an airplane that he was determined to test out by jumping off the roof of our house. I don’t know who will be more excited when she opens the gift—him or my granddaughter (which is why the tag is addressed to both of them!)
Toys and play can also be nostalgic, taking us back to our own childhoods and connecting us across generations. I also bought Kayla an Etch-A-Sketch this year, a toy that I adored as a kid and that both of my kids played with for hours. And sometimes the connections goes not only across generations but across a family. At Thanksgiving this year my mom gave my sister, Shari, and I the game Mystery Date. We were immediately children again, opening the game and lying on the floor to play together. But I also had to text my cousin, Pam, and my daughter to let them know that we now had the game to play at our 2016 girls weekend at the beach! My cousins, my sister and I spent hours playing this game during summers spent at our grandparents’ farm and I am so excited to bring my daughter into the world of Mystery Date because I know that we will create great memories playing it together.
There is no doubt that play is an important tool for learning but its’ role in building connections and memories may be just as important. It is in these connections that we find meaning for our lives.