As we get older, naturally, play finds itself towards the bottom of the priority list. We cannot always escape the demands life brings, and many of us may feel as though play no longer deserves the time we once gave it when we were younger. Or maybe we feel we are incapable of dedicating large amounts of time to it because we are occupied with things that are more important in fulfilling our definition of what being an adult means. Much like in the movie Hook starring Robin Williams as Peter Pan, he one day leaves Neverland and as time goes by, he forgets that it was even a part of his life. He doesn’t remember Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys, or even his enemy… Captain Hook. As he is forced to come back to Neverland, he slowly starts to see the life he used to live and has forgotten. He remembers how to be a kid again.
I spent my childhood growing up in Golden, Colorado, which is right in the foothills at the base of the Rocky Mountains. My connection to the outdoors is something I developed very quickly as a kid. We had a backyard that was split into two levels; the middle was held up by a wall of rocks with creatures of all sorts living in the dark areas between them and served as our platform to test how high we could jump off the ground. It wasn’t unusual to wake up with a herd of deer on the other side of the fence dividing our property and my neighbor’s. We had a wooden playset on the right side and a trampoline on the left that my two sisters and I spent hours upon hours jumping, playing zombie or trying to perfect our front flips. I developed a deeper connection and appreciation for the scenery and nature around me as I got older, so the time we spent outside was the most fun when I took in what was around me and let my imagination kick in.
Play has a certain aspect of vulnerability when putting yourself and your imagination out there. My imagination when I was younger was often put towards making up new places for me to live. I had and still have such a fascination for exotic homes: treehouses, our old camper, castles, towers, fairy gardens, secret worlds, you name it. I never imagined I was anyONE else, but someWHERE else – and living a different life. When we’d take our pop-up camper up to the mountains, my dad would have it sitting in the front of our house for a few days before we left. That camper became MY home – with my own kitchen, bed, coffee, and secret password to enter, given to those that were allowed. When winter rolled around with loads of snow it was the perfect opportunity to create a new home with my bare hands. I remember one year we got so much snow we built an igloo in my front yard with a sledding hill going down the side of our house. I imagined living in that igloo for the rest of my life. For me, there was something comfortable about being confined in such a small home.
This pandemic has brought times of struggle and confusion to us all. We are all feeling the wear and tear of dealing with the future being unknown and the present being so unsettling. One thing that has tested us all is NOT being busy. We now have the time that we all crave when our lives are jam-packed with school, work, meetings, and other commitments. We have the time to spend with our family, to try new things, or maybe even reflect and remember. I haven’t thought about that igloo or my old trampoline in years. The biggest difference between my days now and my days when I was a kid is that I made time for play when I was a kid. We all made the time for play when we were younger.
Remembering how I used to play as a kid has brought back so many memories and familiar feelings of why play was so important to me when I was younger – and what it did in shaping the person I am today. Allowing ourselves time every day to be our creative selves is freeing and necessary.
Play is always around us, and it evolves with us as we evolve into the next phases of our lives. The choice to see its presence is up to the individual.
Haley Schueppert is a senior at Clemson University and an intern for the US Play Coalition. She first interned with the US Play Coalition in the spring of 2020 just as we switched all work and programming to online. Haley regularly participated in the 2020 Online Play Conference sessions and speaks often of the positive learning she took from it.