Connections To Play

Lost Adventures of Childhood: The Value of Free Play –

Play as we once knew it is quickly vanishing from childhood.  This page is dedicated to discussing what play means to us.

No conversation about play would be complete without recognizing one of the great play advocates of our profession, Docia Zavitkovsky, who said, “As I have moved from my first small circle to ever widening ones, I have learned that working and playing with all the different people in this early childhood field creates lifelong friendships and bonds of enjoyment, pride and meaning that are immeasurable… and that we are the shoulders that our colleagues, young and old, can stand on.”  Docia Zavitkovsky, 2007

The importance of play is stated powerfully by Sharon Kagan in a presentation in Santa Monica, CA, “… play is THE fundamental cornerstone for children’s development.”  Sharon Kagan, 2005.  The emphasis is that of Sharon Kagan. 

I must agree that play has been a source of many of my friendships over the course of my life.  Granted, many of these are friendships in a situational sort of way, but they have truly helped me to address issues of my growth and development including issues of self-esteem and competence, and anti-bias awareness.

Play was essential in developing my resilience – teaching me the value of risk, sportsmanship, and perseverance.  Play has been an essential factor in my becoming who I am today.


  • I selected this game because it represents the change in play that has occurred over the past generation.  When my brothers and I were children, we played this game.  It was simple then, with pegs and little plastic ships. 
  • A few years ago, I brought out the game when my nephew and niece were visiting at my Mom’s house.  My Mom had saved the game from our childhood.
  • When a ship was “sunk” I made an exploding sound.  My nephew laughed.  When I asked him what was so funny he said, “Our game makes that sound for us!”


  • When we were children, we would go to my cousins house.  They had a huge yard and we would go out and invite some neighbors over.  We would play football in the dusty yard for hours while the “grown-ups” visited inside the house. 
  • Back then, we only needed a ball.  No uniforms, no banners, no team parent, not referees.  We settled our disputes ourselves.

When I was a child, it seemed that everyone supported play more than they do today.  My Dad would take us out to the playground on Saturdays.  I remember he would hit us fly balls and we would go diving around the outfield, trying to make our catches look “spectacular” like the players we saw on television.

Schools supported play.  We had long lunch recess periods and there were organized sports activities for us to do.  Hardly any children sat around.  We were all busy in play – kickball, handball, even foursquare.  There were games that the teachers had seemingly invented that I never see children play anymore, such as kickball pinball.

Our parents, uncles and aunties all let us play outside for hours.  The bathtub those nights after visiting our Grandma’s house would be caked with dirt.

It’s tragic today how I will pass a school on a school day and so often see the playing fields empty.  Children sit around or wander.  Recess time is shorter, although the research says that play, especially early in the day actually improves academic performance of children (School Wellness Conference, Dr John Ratey).  On weekends the school playgrounds are locked.  Parks have sports, but many times the sports for children is organized by adults.  Uniforms, referees, banners – these have replaced the sandlot games of the past.  Physical, active play is less prevalent in many neighborhoods, as children spend more time “playing” with their technology.  Interestingly, while I was in Santa Cruz, working with youth on probation – some of the most physically active children were those “troublemakers.”  They skateboarded around town or rode their bikes.  The city actually made it tough on the skateboarding children, with police giving tickets to them for skateboarding in some areas.  I have diminishing hope that childhood will ever support the play that I once knew.  Parents would be considered negligent for letting their little ones “terrorize” the neighborhood unsupervised.  Games that were once only possible outside are now simulated indoors on the television.  And not surprisingly, a new generation is growing up, the first generation in our memory, that has a shorter life expectancy that that of their parents’ generation.  In preschools that I visit, teachers are increasingly concerned with academics.  Sandboxes, painting easels and water/sensory tables are vanishing.  And once the memory of what childhood once felt like disappears from our collective memory, we will no longer even understand what we have lost.

Play is play.  The purpose of play is in the play itself.  No goals or objectives for the player outside of the play.  No encouragement needed.  It begins and ends organically.  And yet, play presented me with many gifts.  As a 53 year old man, I still play basketball almost every Sunday with the guys.  Some of the guys even have their daughters joining us (the girls are actually far better in many ways than the guys!).  Because of play I learned to take risks.  I learned that losing was a natural part of life and that effort and team work were tools that could take me places.  I learned that if I didn’t apply for that promotion I wouldn’t get it, and that whether I got the job or not, it was worth it to try.  I learned to subordinate my ego for the good of the team, to play my role, whatever it was.  I learned also to speak out, to shout, to be upset – that play was desperately important in the playing.  In my professional life, it means that I sometimes “play hardball” – challenge my colleagues.  If I believe in an idea, I want my idea to “win”.  I learned to win glorious victories, to celebrate fleeting moments – the details of which would be soon forgotten – but that feeling would exist forever.  As I write this today, I am terribly sore from playing hours of basketball last night.  Last night my teams lost.  But there is always next week to look forward to.


4 thoughts on “Connections To Play

  1. Geralyn says:


    One of the things that I noticed about your memories about play is that not only did it often involve getting dirty, but that is was okay to get dirty. As a child, we had specific clothes that were “play clothes”. It was okay if these got dirty or torn. To often, I have seen children come to childcare, dressed in expensive name brand clothes with the expectation that they not get the clothes dirty. This certainly impacts the activities that children can engage in even with the use of smocks. For some parents, their child’s appearance is extremely important. It often takes much effort on the part of the teacher to help the parent look at the child’s need to play( and perhaps get dirty) or to work out some kind of solution that will allow the needs of both the child and the parent to be met.

    • gregoryuba says:

      Yes… I remember just sending the children home “messy” until the parents got the message… At first, the parents didn’t appreciate it… But soon enough, they were sending their children to school in yard sale clothes and with a smile! Culturally sensitive teachers do understand that parents dress their children according to family culture expectations for the situation, and this really does need to be recognized by the teacher (better than I recognized it at least)…

      A wonderful story I heard at a conference (NAEYC I believe) was of a school where the children were celebrating Mud Day (World Forum – Early Childhood Exchange)… A parent arrived with the child in a new outfit… the child saw the children in the mud and looked at the parent… the parent nodded that it was alright and the child plunged into the mud…

      We do make a difference when we advocate for play.

  2. bucknerc says:

    Hello Greg. Play is for the sake of playing. We do learn the lessons that help us relate to and get along with others while playing and you indicated. Another observation is that we use what we learn in order to play better. I gave an example where the older children in the neighborhood taught the younger children to count, inadvertently, through calling out the numbers while playing Hide-n-Seek. We counted 1-100 using single digits, by2s and by 5s before we learned what the numbers meant!

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