BY JULIE DUDGEON, MIDDLE SCHOOL COORDINATOR, CHAUTAUQUA STRIDERS
When I was growing up, my sister and I used to spend summer nights under an enormous maple tree at my parent’s house playing cards with my mother. After getting bathed and ready for bed, we would sit at our picnic table under a canopy of leaves, feeling the soft summer breezes, wondering at the stars, chatting about the day’s events, and trying to beat my mother at Canasta or Rummy. I can also remember playing Old Maid with my grandmother at her house. She was a very stately and elegant woman - definitely from a bygone era of gentility - so when she decided to slip an extra “old maid” into the deck one afternoon, the outcome was especially funny. We had no idea my grandmother was capable of such a thing as “cheating” and the twinkle in her eyes was priceless.
These, and other times, shared with the dearest people in my life are some of my fondest memories, and they really helped connect me to my family. At times, I believe as grown ups, we forget how to play with our children. We have so many responsibilities constantly tugging at us – the worrisome economy, jobs, bills, taxes, aging parents, spouses, siblings, the world situation, and on and on. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily cares of life because we want and need to be responsible adults. Somewhere in all of us, however, lurks our “inner child”; we just have to find it again.
There are many reasons why children play, according to experts. Subconsciously, they learn to master skills and concepts they use to connect to challenges faced in daily life and at school. Their view of themselves is also developed partially through play. How they resolve conflicts and issues, and evaluate successes and failures through their games and activities have long-term effects. Play teaches them to overcome obstacles and arrive at workable and satisfactory solutions. Sometimes reenacting stressful situations through play gives children the opportunity to vent their feelings and come to terms with them in order to find a successful outcome to whatever is happening in their lives. When parents pay attention to these cues, they can also advise and sympa-
thize without directly telling children what to do. By acting out appropriate responses through play, caring adults can indirectly offer suggestions.
On the grown up side of things, playing with your children can be a welcome chance to jump off the “gerbil wheel” and relax. Letting go of daily chores is difficult for some of us, and we need to take a step back and prioritize. The cleaning and ironing will always be there tomorrow; the lawn can be mowed a few hours later. Giving our minds permission to wander into the world of imagination helps us deal with the “real” world in many of the same ways play helps our children cope.
Additionally, as the examples of my mother and grandmother point out, play can be a wonderful bonding experience. Children feel loved, secure, protected, and safe within their parent’s intimate sphere. Some childhood activities necessarily push parents into physical exercise, as well, and that isn’t a bad idea either. Riding bicycles, camping, hiking, swimming, jumping rope, shooting hoops – the opportunities are endless. Perhaps this is why professional sports are such a sought after vocation. Play connects us to others and taps us into the energy and excitement of “the game.”
In an online article I found sponsored by Generations United and The Toy Industry Association, Bernie DeKovan, of the Intergenerational Play Project stated, “If we can learn to play consciously, lovingly, openly, our games can lead us to moments of profound spiritual union and rebirth. Our children become our mentors, revising our vision, increasing our compassion and our capacity for joy.” Good words to live by, I think, especially as we head into the summer months. Let the games begin!
Julie Dudgeon, Middle School Coordinator for Chautauqua Striders, supervises the after school tutoring programs at Jefferson, Washington, and Persell Middle Schools, and also CARE (Community AcademicsReaching Everyone) tutoring program at the Jamestown YMCA, Second Floor. A resident of this area most of her life, she is married and has two grown sons