The Importance of Play

What I love most about my childhood are the memories of our kitchen, of my mother giving us little cooking tasks—brushing the phyllo dough with melted butter without overstuffing the spanikopita triangles with the spinach feta mixture. Memories of Lea and I playing Barbies in the basement, creating our own musical numbers on the piano. Unscheduled play.

I’ve written about this before, not just the importance of play for children, but for adults, how important boredom is, how creativity is born when we’re bored. I know a lot of people who pride themselves on their children’s busy schedules. Just writing this sentence makes me feel like I need to say, “I’m not judging,” because of course I am. An expert, I am not. But I see it as a disservice to have my kids involved in too many activities. Exposing them to a variety of activities is a glorious thing. Sports, drumming, art, acting, foreign languages, it’s all great. And you want your child to find “their thing,” to be well-rounded, and what works for one kid doesn’t work for another, I’ll hedge. I just can’t help but feel in my gut that kids should be bored. Exercised and bored. Bored enough to invent things, to play for hours upon hours in a basement or in the backyard (preferable).

I don’t want these kids to be busy. Interested, excited, curious, my goodness yes. I want them to feel all these things, but they already naturally are these things. Aren’t all kids?

We are expecting a blizzard tomorrow, which makes my soul sing. I love flooding and thunderstorms more than snow, but I like the way snow lasts, the way it debilitates a city. Do you think we’re a certain few who prefer tempestuous weather to sunny days? It’s to the point where I get annoyed when people speak of how mild the winter has been, when they brighten about how gorgeous the day is. It’s like I’m in it alone.

I maybe should have lived in an earlier time because I live much slower, want to live much slower than everyone else. When I hear a blizzard is making its approach, I light up like the inside of a pumpkin.

I’ve been home sick this past week. No one wants to read about mucus or a hoarse voice or how when I was younger I used to record my outgoing answering machine message whenever I was hoarse because I love a throaty voice. Having resisted taking antibiotics, I thought the cold I had would run its course, but now after six days of sick, I’ve succumb.

Blizzards lend themselves to joy. Without pressure for playdates or school homework and after school activities, these are family days full of delight. No expectation for productivity. It’s pure joy. Watercolors, forts, baking, roasting a chicken. Reading with thick socks and feather beds, trying new board games (like Pandemic). Classical music. Tea. I love when we slow down and make the everyday memories we’ll really remember.

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Watercolor Play


  1. Not a parent, but I can’t help but agree with all you’ve written, simply based on my own favorite memories as a kid. My favorite memory was the time my parents got a new fridge, and my brother and I redesigned it into a trailer home. Once we got tired of that, we flattened it out and went sledding down the stairs. Boredom absolutely breeds invention and creativity, and I do think your kids are lucky to have a mom that gets that.

    PS: I’m possibly giddy about the snow today. I think what I like about weather events is the sense of community I feel with neighbors– we’re all talking about the same thing, the stores are bustling, it’s exciting. Hope you guys make some fun memories today.

  2. * I mean the refrigerator box. I’d have to have real talent to flatten out a refrigerator:).

  3. I totally agree! My kids are still so little, but I don’t understand the crazy scheduled people put them on, even as toddlers. I love watching them play almost as much as I love the people they are – seeing my daughter dress up in a princess costume and save her little brother from the dragon never fails to make me smile (and want to do a Spice Girls fist pump and yell “Girl power!”).

  4. OK. First off, I hate snow passionately so I can’t agree with you in regards to that. However, everything else about this post is spectacular. My wife and I work at a group home facility and have a house full of teenage boys living with us. We’ve been doing this for seven years now and one of our biggest points of frustration comes from how incapable they seem to be at entertaining themselves.

    They will often times, quite literally, follow me around the house asking for things to do. I have always expressed to them that one of the greatest traits that they can develop is the ability to entertain themselves so, most of the time, I remind them of that and move on.

    What is it with some parents these days who are content to constantly entertain their children? Do they not see that they are depriving their kids of a developing imagination? You’re right, it’s good for kids to discover and invent. We have two children of our own and we do have them in sports and activities because we want them to engage with other kids. However, I agree with you. Don’t overload your kids with activities. Give them some space and see what they will create.

    Thank you for sharing.

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