Savage Park Reminds Me About Importance of Play

I needed to step away from reading books on education and productivity. With my latest batch of books from the library(currently have 56 checked out) I read Savage Park by Amy Fusselman. I read it without checking out the back cover or trying to remember why I checked it out in the first place. I just dove in.

I am glad I did because the book was a departure from my usual readings. This book is part journal/memoir with a dash of manifesto on play, combined with storytelling, and ideas on importance of space, play, finding ourselves, and more. I don’t really know how to describe it any other way.

What really connected me to this book is that ironically while I was reading about the ideas in the book my son and neighborhood kids took on the task of building a tree fort. As much as I wanted to say no, tell them to be safe, no tools, don’t climb too high, and all the other adult limitations set upon kids today I chose not to. I kept to the integrity of what I was reading in the book to see how things played out. I never gave advice, I did not tell them no(when I wanted to so many times), and just let them figure things out. I was so impressed that after about 30 hours of work they had assembled a fort that they could call their own with some impressive troubleshooting ideas.

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Going back to the book I had to write down some passages that just really hit home.

“Why do we ever stop saying “Hi!” to everything? How is the understanding that the entire world is worthy of¬†conscious¬†consideration ever lost?”

This quote really resonates with me. My three year old will talk to anyone and anything. She does not care and is always so happy. I have written before on that it drives me nuts when you say good morning or hello to someone in the hallway and they walk by and don’t say anything back. How can you look at someone, recognize they are talking to you and not respond? It drives me crazy.

Another passage that really smacked me in the face was the idea of distraction. In the book the author discusses the sad situation of the labels and warnings needed for bathing infants in bathtubs and story of a mother who believed that a bath seat would protect her baby in the water while she was distracted.

“…a parent can become distracted, and a child should not have to pay with her or his life as a result.”

I am reminded of myself and how easily I get distracted. The anxiety I feel when I don’t get all these things done that I think are essential. When I calm my brain down and really process what is important in life I laugh. This blog is not essential. My nerdy videos are not essential, social media is not essential, yet I often am distracted by these thoughts in my daily life or when I should be playing with my kids more.

PLAY

My topic of love. I blog about play. I have a Play and Tinkering G+ group. I am fascinated by play and continue to push for more play in schools. The book opened up my eyes to so many things. If we take a US focus, play is often described as an activity. The book references Roger Caillois when he says something that I LOVE! “The structure sof play and reality are often identical, but the respective activities that they subsume are not reducible to each other in time or place.” Basically, play is a reality twin of reality!

How powerful is that statement? Yet it is perfect.

“Play is not something that we do; it is something that we are.” This statement is something that we forget as adults. We try to schedule “play dates” or “play time” or we have now moved to an oversaturated society where everything is scheduled with perfectly created uniforms, schedules, rules, and adults involved at every nook and cranny. We have basically eliminated play from the lifestyles of children.

The book continues to take a look at how every playground in America is the same due to all the rules and restrictions. When compared to the Hanegi Playpark where kids just make with tools and scraps found laying around it is quite sad. As Susan Solomon states in her book American Playgrounds, “Existing American playgrounds are a disaster.”

Finally, I love this final quote worth sharing

“To play, you do not need a particular object or game or even a playground, you need only an assent, a grateful and glad yes.”

Kids need space. They need to be able to leave the reality of worksheets, sitting in desks all day, being forcefed useless knowledge and information and given time to explore, to learn, to grow in their own terms. We need adults to step back and give them the space needed to find themselves. I am not suggesting we let them be all the time and ignore them, but how often do we let them find their own path? We allow them to be distracted with devices and video games just as we do ourselves, but that is not what we are talking about.

If I can go back to my son. I wanted to intervene. But for three days my son did not touch his iPad. He is an iPad junkie and I partly to blame for allowing it to happen. He will waste a day away if I let him. For three days he spent 10-12 hours each day in this fort building, fixing, learning how to use tools, and just playing. It was wonderful.

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I would encourage you to read this book. If nothing else it tells a remarkable story of people who grapple with space, family, friends, growing up, and most important what it means to be human. At a deeper level I hope you rethink your ideas on play.

Last, next time kids want to play please give them the space to do so and maybe they will create their own fort or something even better.

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