“Happy hearts and happy faces,
Happy play in grassy places—
That was how, in ancient ages,
Children grew to kings and sages.”
Robert Louis Stevenson, A Child’s Garden of Verses
It is so easy for us to forget. Playing is how children practice to become adults. They take it very seriously, because for them it is where life happens. Consider what children traditionally ‘play’ at: building a city, raising children, healing the sick, making war. Intuitively they know: doing these things is the very stuff of human life. And they want to start to live.
We undervalue the play of children, at their peril, and ours.
And we face a challenge. What perhaps could have been taken for granted a couple of generations ago can no longer be. Children are losing the ability to play, and this at least in part because the natural contexts for play are vanishing. Indeed, they are being replaced. We need to carve out a place for true play. Happy play, in grassy places.
Playing war with swords and shields, versus playing war in a video game, or watching it in a movie. The difference is dramatic, and who can calculate the consequences?
Happy play in grassy places: that was how, once upon a time, children grew to kings and sages. It can still be, but today it will be a fruit of our intentional cultivation.
R.L Stevenson (1850-1894) is the great Scottish author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped, A Child’s Garden of Verses, and other classics.
Image by Swedish author and illustrator Elsa Beskow (from Peter in Blueberry Land)