Thinking About The Business of Play

It seems I’ve been pre-occupied with the concept of ‘play’ for quite some time. Seven years working at a toy company and it’s a task I’ve been faced with daily, creating a play ‘experience’ for a child. There are a lot of hands in the making of a toy, too many to list here, designers, engineers, marketers, and a lot of push and pull from many forces. My job, as a content producer, is to make the toy come to life through story and character and to force a sense of logic that, to a child playing, doesn’t feel like logic. That feels seamless, uncluttered, and free.

In that time, I have had to develop a play philosophy, and that has always been to let the child guide the play, to let them make their own discoveries, and to never hand them an experience that feels structured or overwrought. With so much push and pull, with so many hands, I’ll admit I haven’t always been able to make that happen. But that has always been and always will be my goal.

And, as a writer, that play philosophy extends to my stories. It affects how I write (which is to say, with complete chaos and freewheeling insanity.) It affects what I write (words that are often, I’m told, too dreamlike, un-sequenced, and strange.) And it places great faith and trust in my reader. I’m not saying it’s the best way to write or do things, it’s just the way I write and do things.

So, it is with great interest that I read this piece by Hanna Rosin in The Atlantic, The Overprotected Kid. A phenomenon that isn’t new to me (in fact, I wrote a little of it in 2011 after attending a conference about, what else (!), play.) but this focuses on the idea of ‘supervised’ and ‘safe’ play and the new playgrounds that are being built to allow children to stray from that.

Rosin discusses the fears parents have about their child’s safety and how many of those fears are unfounded. She also discusses what we might be denying our children by letting those fears take over, compromising their creativity, their independence, their ability to solve problems, take risks, and overcome obstacles.

In all my years as a parent, I have never come upon children who are so inwardly focused, so in tune with each other, so utterly absorbed by the world they’ve created, and I think that’s because in all my years as a parent, I’ve mostly met children who take it for granted that they are always being watched. Now that I’m not only creating play experience at work and in my writing but with my own little one, I’m thinking about ‘play’ even more seriously (and I recognize the irony of that statement, of these words in general.) As life goes on, I don’t know how my play philosophy will change but, as of right now, it stays the same. I hope to find play environments for Little O that allow for the unstructured and unsupervised play I had as a child.

I still recall playing a game of War that would make many parents of today cringe. It lasted for weeks. There were swingset prisoners, buckets of freezing cold water, and real fear as my little legs ran from the enemy. It was cruel and strange and all consuming but, to this day, I remember, with pride, the rules of our war. I remember that we made them.

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