Living Arts Weekly: The Art of Play

January 23, 2021

Games are the most elevated form of investigation.   -Albert Einstein

We had the luck of a beautiful snowfall this past weekend, and with the chance of another snowfall always being a guess, we made a priority to get out to play! ! The cold nipped at our cheeks and toes, but the sun shone brightly. Our local sledding hill was covered with joyful families and I was thrilled to watch many little ones one their first sledding adventures ever. But what I loved most was watching the antics of a group of boys. They tried trick after trick, arrangement after arrangement. On their knees, on their feet. Two to a sled, two or three or even five sleds pulled together. Lines of sleds horizontally, lines of sleds vertically. Some of it was successful but most of it ended with the whole lot of them toppling one over another, rolling down the hill. They seemed to be having the time of their lives.

The next morning we joined extended family for a big snowball fight. While playing, we tried a snowball-version of Capture the Flag that evolved into an hour of game exploration instead. We tried various new rules, field set ups, moving flags and adding flags; all in effort to create a game within our context that was fun and fair for everyone. The process of creating the game, though, was gratifying alone. It was beautiful to see and feel everyone working together.

This game, and the big boys sledding on the previous day, sparked my thinking on game play. Situations like these engage the foundational senses of touch, life, self-movement and balance in very nourishing ways, but also develop very valuable social capacities.


This group of boys was exercising the kind of natural risk-taking behavior I see explored in all ages when given the freedom. Sometimes this risk-taking is a solitary act, but most often I notice it in group situations. And, it’s very healthy when the group is offering cooperative support- everyone is in it together, and everyone is allowed to “set their own bar”. No one is creating more pressure than is simply natural when participating in a group. All the boys were exuberant as they tested their limits and creatively considered what crazy formations they could make in sledding next.

Cooperation and Teamwork

For years I have watched groups of children as young as five begin a traditional game, and through circumstance and imagination, redesign it to fit their needs or desitres. This kind of play requires some serious cooperation and flexibility. Planning the game requires an inner picture to be held, and creative problem-solving when plans do not go accordingly. As ideas are shared and tried, conflict arises that must be resolved for everyone to continue playing, and the desire to keep playing is a strong influence upon one’s willingness to compromise. Naturally, a feeling of fairness arises and each becomes a participant in striking a balance of power and advantage. Disappointments and challenges with the experience also help participants learn how to forgive, forget and move forward with a new perspective. With a bit of guidance or simply the allowance of space and time, sophisticated games can be created that are so rewarding, they are revisited over and over again and held in a special light through their ownership.

How We Support their Play

Game play, whether planned and structured or improvised, involves a rich variety of life skills. There are few, if any, situations organized by adults that offer the same developmental opportunities as when children play openly and deeply. How can we as parents and educators create the proper “playground” for this deep play?

Children need regularly implemented time and space for these moments to arise. They can’t be rushed or planned, and they can’t be forced. Having a daily and weekly rhythm that is set up with plenty of free play will help. Children must also have a sense of calm and security to take risks, or cooperate so thoroughly with others. A consistent and predictable rhythm, set to their pace of life, that satisfies foundational needs will cultivate this inner tranquility. And lastly, they need adults to provide guidance and support, but they also need us to stay out of the way. It’s easy to feel a need to resolve conflicts or offer suggestions, but it is crucial for them to have a chance to work things out independently. Being observant of their play and our own inclinations can help strike a balance of involvement that is right for each age and group of children.

Join us for our upcoming online course!

Becoming Champions of Play with Judith Frizlen

February 2 – 16

In this three-week course, we will explore play which is nature’s way to support child development. Understanding the important role of play in child development helps us become champions of play!

Play is innate; the young child does not need to learn to play but rather be allowed to play by having time, space and a calm adult presence. Instead of worrying about what children are or are not learning, let’s build our trust in the child to practice what they need to learn! Click the link below to register or learn more:

Becoming Champions of Play with Judith Frizlen

3 thoughts on “Living Arts Weekly: The Art of Play”

  1. I would bet if you asked someone who was lucky to have played in the snow as a child would give you such specific details about their experience! Snow many memories! 🛷🧦🧤🧣🌨❄️

  2. Acacia,
    This was delightful to read! We experience a similar type of adventurous sledding play here one the beach in Florida . Instead of snow covered hills, we have waves and instead of sleds, we use boogie boards. I just love the adaptation to our environments!!

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