What is play?

Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.

 – Fred Donaldson

When my son mastered walking, he instantaneously began to climb. Gradually, I had to remove my furniture little by little until my living room was leveled. He would climb eight hours a day if he could, working diligently to conquer one structure after the next.
Thankfully this was also summer, I was able to take him to the playground everyday. Each morning, he would target one specific equipment, set his heart on it, then start his conquest. He would try to climb by lifting his body from his torso. He would try to climb by pulling his body up using his arm. He would try to climb by lifting one of his foot up first. After successive efforts, there was always a way for him to get to the top. If it was a slide that he just conquered, he would then slide down on his back, slide down on his belly or slide down side ways.
The meticulous way he worked on his climbing skills was awe-inspiring. I never had to tell him how to climb or how to get down. He figured it all out in time. I simply rescued him when he was frustrated or helped him when his legs couldn’t reach higher. It was all him. He often giggled or did his happy dance when he got down the slide in a new and unexpected way. In those moments, I celebrated with him sharing a laugh on the sidelines. I felt like he was teaching me to be a good mom by simply standing back and allowing him the freedom to work things out for himself.
From learning to climb, he learned to fall with grace, then get up again. He learned there were multiple ways to get up a structure. He learned that climbing is fun yet sometimes painful. He learned with practice he could climb the structures he’d been eyeing for weeks. He learned that he is capable even though he is still short. He learned that there will be support and help. There were a lot of learning spontaneously from these play sessions.
Since then, my son has progressed from being obsessed with climbing to other pursuits. He has learned to throw a ball and to jump. Each of these pursuits took hours of practice and lots of failures. The way to learn is exactly to fail a lot of times and to rejoice when one’s successful. He has learned that – the way to learn.
As a stay at home mom, my greatest moments of joy are watching my son conquer an activity with gusto. There is no need for me to tell him to not do something: Don’t climb, Don’t eat that or Don’t run. He will do it anyway because his job is to explore this world. Apart from anything unsafe, I simply watch him and support him in learning from each task that he embarks on. New opportunities to explore often unleashes itself from that learning. As he develops new skills, I introduce new ones to him in an effort to engage him. Slowly, our days are structured around his morning and afternoon play sessions. The laughter that came out of those sessions are the true gifts of our life.

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