Wednesday Quotes
Playing in Grassy Places
May 25, 2016

Child Swinging

“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)

Leave a Reply


  1. Jodi Wells, Christendom College parent

    Yes, indeed, children need that space for play. One of my favorite children’s books is Roxaboxen by Rosemary Clooney. Giving our children the time and space for creating and solving problems together is the gentle precursor to living as adults.

    1. Thanks Jodi; I’m not familiar with that book; I’ll have to check it out.

  2. Kathleen Schmiedicke

    A hearty “AMEN!” to your post. Even schools do not encourage children to play: sadly, the powers that be reduce or eliminate recess. How different the faces of homeschooled children from those sent to ‘regular’ school!

  3. Perhaps the technical gadgets we provide our children are lessening real “play”. An empty box,
    a few blocks would serve them better

  4. QUESTION FOR ALL: I would be interested to hear from anyone who could share any thoughts on how they have provided children with contexts conducive to ‘good play.’

    1. My four children range in age from 22-14. We live on a dirt road in a little neighborhood that has a community lake and abuts a state forest – that is a big plus. As they grew older they had this ever increasing range where they could roam. We limited the use of electronics in our home. When we did have a TV – we rarely had cable and only used the TV for well chosen movies. We did not (and still don’t) own a gaming system. Children were allowed to begin using the computer at age 12. A lot of their toys, especially in the younger years, were homemade or made of natural materials. No battery operated toys! We also didn’t allow movie or TV driven toys in our home. (There were a couple of exceptions.) We are also not a “sports” focused family but more of a camping,hiking, kayaking family. The push for organized sports for younger and younger children has also had a huge impact on play.

      But…I will say that this has been harder with my boys who are now 14 and 16 – the number of devices that have been made available ipods, iphones, kindles…and the ease of binge watching Netflix even though we don’t own a TV are all huge temptations. I do worry about the state of play in today’s society and feel the only form of education that truly understands the value of both work and play is Waldorf Education.

      I am also a new grandmother and I am determined to make Mimi’s house an electronics free zone for as long as possible. Visits to Mimi’s house will be filled with good books and stories, simple toys, baking cookies and cooking, handwork, and lots of time outdoors!

      1. Donna, Thank you so much for sharing this. It is always encouraging to know both a) that people are facing the same things, and b) that they are ‘hanging in there’ in creative ways.

  5. 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?

    I think the primary difference is face-to-face social interaction (traditional) versus machine layered social interaction (video). Human face-to-face interaction is extremely complex for the brain (CAT scans show this). Social interaction (like language or birds singing) probably must be learned young or is very hard to learn later.

    But the same might be true about machines and the modern sedentary life. It’s hard to know the importance of young brain development for reading or abstract mathematics…or even for sewing or throwing a spear. These are all fairly new technologies for the human brain: the first two in the past 10-20,000 years, the latter two say 1-2 million years. A lot of genetic shifting (we can see the evolution of teeth in less than 5,000 years for the Plains Indians, but now going extinct).

  6. I would be interested to hear from anyone who could share any thoughts on how they have provided children with contexts conducive to ‘good play.’

    1) Homeschool (for more time and safer play environment).
    2) Large family size for plenty of play partners.
    3) No TV, video games, phones, chat (face-to-face only).
    4) Very, very limited store-bought toys (build their own).
    5) Accept risk; let them take chances.
    6) No sugar, no processed food.

    All are very hard today. SAHM and Grandparents tend to fail on 3-6. Neighbors oft find parents negligent if children take risks. #3 is seen as socially restrictive. But critics come around; the results are visible.

    1. MK, Thanks for these brass tacks suggestions. It is interesting that you mention FOOD. Food is certainly one of the ways that contemporary habits simultaneously can a) injure the bodily integrity of our children, and b) undermine the moral virtue of temperance. I have found it is very difficult to encourage good habits in the face of the relentlessly degenerate food products made so easily available.

  7. Food is one of the ways that contemporary habits undermine temperance.

    Yes. Millions of homilies about sex. Not a whisper on food, money, or birth control. Too close to home for the most obese, wealthy, and anti-family people in human history.