Playing in the Sand
June 7, 2017

“When I was down beside the sea
A wooden spade they gave to me.
To dig the sandy shore.”
Robert Louis Stevenson, A Child’s Garden of Verses

They–whoever they were–clearly did this child a good turn. They brought him to a good place, and they gave him a good ‘toy’–if we call it a toy.

The best ‘play’ is a kind of first exercise in the deeper things of life: such as playing house, or playing army. Or digging in the earth.

Children have a kind of natural fascination with many things, some of them good, some of them not. How they play, what they play and with whom they play will either bring out or pare back these fascinations.

Current customs, particularly because of the technologies involved, have taken an alarming turn toward replacing play with entertainment. Real play might be entertaining, but it is not simply entertainment. Watching a screen, or even pushing buttons on a screen–even though they be called ‘games’–fall short of being real play. Such is not how to have a first exercise in real life.

Plato insisted that we must be attentive to what and how children play. It might not be feasible completely to sidestep current technology-driven practices.

But it is still within our power to cultivate children’s good natural proclivities. In summer recreation and summer vacation we can good opportunity to minimize the technology, and to emphasize natural contexts for play. They are often right at hand. Our children’s response might surprise us. And one day, they might thank us.

R.L Stevenson (1850-1894) is the great Scottish author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped, A Child’s Garden of Verses, and other classics.

Image: Ruth Mary Hallock

NOTE: Next Wednesday I will be finishing a retreat at a Benedictine monastery in Oklahoma. I must skip that week’s Wednesday quote; please excuse my first skip in almost four years.
ALS0, BETHANY WEEKEND: We are happy and grateful that the first Bethany Weekend is full. We will let you know when the next weekend is scheduled.

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  1. No question. Active, physical play can benefit both body and soul. But a word of caution re sand play. My granddaughter just published a pamphlet on safe sand play. Years ago her brother fell into a sand hole he and his brother had been digging. He was buried for quite a few
    minutes and is brain damaged. The cautions are simple and mostly common sense but its good to be aware of them.

    1. Thanks Daniel. It’s good to know this.

  2. Excellent reminder of the joys and simplicity of play! When my children were little and it was too cold to go outside, I would fill my bathtub with snow, the children would put their snowsuit on and play! Great fun! Have a lovely retreat!

  3. Thank you for this beautiful post. I am so grateful to my parents that they encouraged me to play active wholesome games as a child. It truly has an impact on a person’s image of the world.