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The Gift of Play

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 9:36am
Last updated
5 months ago
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Photo courtesy of Pat Rumbaugh

Wintertime is filled with holiday parties, family get-togethers, gift giving, New Year’s Eve, and resolutions. Just imagine giving the gift of play. If you are the organizer of your child’s class party, your company’s holiday get-together, or maybe you hold a New Year’s Eve party - why not consider the gift of play?

We all could use some extra playtime. For the school class party, why not plan a walk to a neighborhood playground off school grounds? Surprise the students after they run around, play on the equipment, and have a good time outside in the cool winter air with some hot chocolate. For play inside, consider adding some board games or dress-up clothes to the festivities. 

As for the company’s holiday party, consider renting a bowling alley, an indoor pool, or how about a company hike ending with a bonfire and a weenie roast. Believe me, when you give students, co-workers, guests, and individuals the unexpected surprise of fun play options, you will have people talking about the play party for years. You also demonstrate your understanding that adding play to our lives makes us better, more competent, more well-rounded, happier people.

Now, let's take a moment and think of gifts for the loved ones in your life. When we give gifts to one another it is important to think about the receiver – What does she enjoy? What activity does he engage in that makes him lose track of time and puts a big smile on his face? 

For the young children, think of play options they may enjoy outside. If you live where snow is expected, what about buying a sled for young children? Always consider open-ended play options that require some creativity, wonder, and problem-solving, rather than just pushing a button. Perhaps give a box of dress-up clothes, a collection of cars, ramps, and blocks, bubbles, or a building set. And every child loves free control over their own roll of tape! 

Maybe you have an elementary age boy or girl who loves baseball. Look into buying the kids a batting tee that they can take to a local park or green space to practice hitting and playing with family and friends. Is your child the quieter, less athletic type? Consider board games, science kits that get them exploring outside, jump ropes, or art and crafts materials. Perhaps teach your child or grandchild games you used to play: building igloos in the snow, jump rope songs, jacks, marbles, Red Light Green Light, or card games. 

My fourteen-year-old niece loves swimming. I plan on inviting Kaia to Let’s Play America’s fourth Indoor Splash & Play Pool Party. I would like to give Kaia the gift of swimming opportunities during the winter months when she may not have access to a pool. 

Just because it is play doesn’t mean it can’t be beneficial to a goal. Many school districts in America are now requiring preteens and teens to accumulate community service hours as a graduation requirement. Community service is a wonderful addition to education. It is practical - allowing students to discover the satisfaction of helping their community while exploring their own interests and areas of expertise. Let’s Play America happily accepts preteen, teen and adult volunteers! 

Kaia and other teens could volunteer at Let’s Play America’s Indoor Splash & Play Pool Party to be held Thursday, December 27, 2018, 2-4pm at Piney Branch Elementary School Indoor Pool.

The gift of play is that it can be given and shared throughout the year. For some, play is doing something physical, for some, it’s intellectual (reading, crossword puzzles, strategy games), and for others, it’s being creative. In my family, we enjoy a mix of board games, cards (poker is a regular game we play) and being active outside playing tennis, walking, and working out.

My son Alex works out regularly. Alex often asks me to join him and sometimes my schedule doesn’t allow me to fit it in, but I am going to make a New Year’s resolution to play regularly with both of my adult children. I believe if you enjoy an activity and it is something you choose to do, then this is your play. I plan on joining Alex working and playing on his TRX (Total Resistance exercises) inside or at a park. Alex is good at instructing me on the correct form for the TRX activities. Alex will demonstrate the exercise and then we both take turns. I like working out with Alex. He explains what to do, he counts my repetitions, and we have fun. So folks, if you have a family member or friend who enjoys working out at the gym or outside I encourage you to give them the gift of play, join them, pay for a membership for a couple of months and you will all benefit from the activity.

Our daughter Sarah has been competing on a United States Tennis Association team. She has been playing singles and is enjoying the physical activity and competition. I am a lifetime USTA member and I competed on a USTA team for over twenty-five years. I love playing my daughter in singles because she is stronger and faster and I am more experienced. Our matches are thrilling because we push each other, but also totally enjoy the workout. Sometimes we play doubles with Alex and my husband Tom. Tennis is a lifetime sport you can play with people of different skill levels and still get a good amount of activity and have fun.

Tom is one of the fastest walkers I know. He doesn’t stroll, he moves when he walks. I like to go for walks with him because I know we are going to get a workout and we get a chance to chat while we walk. Ok, you may be saying to yourself, “What kind of play is that, Pat?” Well, I daily strive to go on playful walks. I go for a walk because I choose to get outside, get some physical activity and relax. Walks connect me with nature and keep a playful sense of wonder alive, as there is always something new to notice or explore. 

A New Year’s resolution I would like to make with my family and friends is that I will play with them what they choose to play. What constitutes a playful activity is different for everyone. Engaging in someone else’s play passion can expand our own ideas and fun. So if Tom wants to bike ride, I will fill my tires up with air and join him for a ride. If friends of mine want to go for a hike, I will put on my hiking shoes and embrace the opportunity for a playful hike. If a young neighbor wants me to act afraid as they pretend to be a dinosaur, I will put on my scared face and yelp. 

Tuesday nights, I walk up to Victory Tower in Takoma Park and play Inter-generational Games Night. I join in and play with super seniors, teens, and a mix of folks from the neighborhood and those that live in the building. It is so much fun to play board games and cards and be jubilant.

As the Executive Director of the nonprofit Let’s Play America (LPA) I strive to assist others in adding play to their lives. To that end, we recently put together a menu of the Play Services offered by LPA.

Readers I hope you will consider contacting me about how Let’s Play America can help you give the gift of play whether it be for a family member, friend, a company, school, or organization. 

Everyone wins that plays!


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Pat Rumbaugh, The Play Lady lives in Takoma Park, Maryland USA. In March, 2009, she founded a play committee in her hometown Takoma Park, Maryland. In early 2011 they started calling themselves Takoma Plays...