The Value of Play
“Blow bubbles?” two-year-old Dorothy asked, her brown eyes eager with anticipation. The excitement was almost more than she could bear. She’d never blown bubbles before.
I nodded and helped her dip the wand into the Disney Princess-branded bottle we’d bought an hour earlier at our local Dollar Tree.
“Okay, blow!” I instructed, my lips pursed to demonstrate the proper form.
Dorothy glanced at me and then at the wand. Puckering her tiny mouth, she blew as if her life depended on it.
Out came a bubble, followed by a giggle.
To think, it was a moment I almost missed.
Bubble blowing wasn’t the only activity vying for my attention. While I’m learning the art of saying “no” to too many projects, that afternoon a pile of work waited for me in my IKEA-inspired walk-in closet office. There was an academic journal that needed copy editing, a doctoral dissertation to be proofread, and a website to which this managing editor needed to post articles and create images.
Oh, and did I mention the dusty hardwood floors that needed mopped, the mountain of unwashed laundry, or the dirty dishes that filled my kitchen sink?
Today, though, I’d made the choice to play.
Play doesn’t always come easy for me. In fact, sometimes it’s downright hard. The truth is that even when I’m not bombarded with projects or dishes, I have trouble simply “being” in the moment. My natural tendency to plan wars with my ability to relax. It’s difficult for me to push aside all that I could accomplish.
Yet, as the famous saying goes, “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” And it’s true. I recently read an article on the importance of play. In it, the authors state:
Play isn't a luxury – it’s a necessity. Play is as important to our physical and mental health as getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising. Play teaches us how to manage and transform our “negative” emotions and experiences. It supercharges learning, helps us relieve stress, and connects us to others and the world around us. Play can also make work more productive and pleasurable.
Lately, I’ve been seeing just how important play is to my overall health and attitude. And more than that, it benefits my family. My husband and kids’ quality of life goes up when I’m more relaxed. Here are some practical and deliberate ways I’m learning to make play a regular part of my life.
A Night In
Movie nights are a big hit with our girls. In the last six months, they’ve adventured with Indy and Bilbo. They’ve discovered the secret that lies with Charlotte, and giggled at Anne’s green hair. And each week, I’ve used those cinematic hours to get work done.
Once the lights have dimmed, the favorite viewing spots claimed, and all are cozy, I’ve quietly snuck away to my office to tackle projects. You’d think as a former film student, I’d jump at the opportunity to take in a flick, but it’s hard for me to silence my “to do” list.
That is, until recently.
One Friday night, I forced myself to curl up on the couch, snuggle with two of my daughters, and cheer on Vanellope as she fought her way to Sugar Rush fame. And you know what? It was one of the most relaxing, enjoyable evenings I’d experienced in a long time. Now movie nights are non-negotiables.
An Adventure Out
As a kid, my parents took my sisters and me on all sorts of road trips and adventures. Now, with my own children, I’ve carried on the tradition. We frequent the aquarium, the local history center, our favorite puppet theater, the planetarium, and the park. Sounds good, right? Well, not so fast. The problem is that my iPhone goes with me – and often it serves as a distraction. It’s that “mail” app that allows me 24/7 access to my work-related messages. I may be physically present, but I’m not always mentally “there.”
In order to really relax and enjoy the moment, I’ve started stashing my phone. Sure, I’ll allow myself to look up directions or to even post an Instagram or two to Facebook, but otherwise I’m learning to just say “no” to checking my email. I’m finding that the more committed I am to this, the more I enjoy and fully engage in the activities we’re doing.
A Rest Day
A day of rest should be a no brainer, right? Well, this has actually been the trickiest one for me. Because of the nature of the work I do – not to mention the fact that there’s always something that needs cleaned or washed — I haven’t completely figured this out yet.
Just recently I did put a “one-day off” plan into action. I divide the work I would have done that day and tackle it on the two days leading up to my “rest day.” I’m nowhere near mastering it, but so far, so good.
Before long, Dorothy won’t need my help to blow bubbles. Like her three older sisters, she’ll soon be able to wield her wand all by herself. I’m thankful that for now, though, while she does still need me, I’m learning the value of play, how it connects me more fully to my kids and the world God gave us to enjoy together.
Ashleigh Slater (www.ashleighslater.com) is the founder and editor of Ungrind, an online magazine churning out encouragement for Christian Women. As a freelance writer, her articles have appeared in print and online in publications including Marriage Partnership, Thriving Family, MOMSense, Crosswalk, Guideposts' Angels on Earth, Clubhouse, Jr., and David C. Cook's Family Currents Newsletter. She currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband Ted and four daughters. You can follow her on Twitter @ashslater.