How to Play. And Thank an 8 year old for the Advice.

Found this at the blog, I think it could make all of our daily routines a little more interesting:


April 20th, 2007 by Ed McShane

I had an 8-yearold child in my office last week. According to his mother, he’d been getting into trouble at school. She wasn’t sure what to do with him, and said that he was a little hard to handle.

He was a sweet little guy, and he sat straight up on my couch. He wasn’t sure why he was seeing a therapist, but he was going along with meeting me. In order to get to know him some, I asked him the question that I ask a lot of little kids his age, just to get an idea of who they are, and how they’re feeling: What kind of things do you like to do, or like to play with?

He gave me this blank stare, as if I asked him to solve an algebraic equation measuring centimeters to the moon. Then he leaned forward on the couch, looked right at me, and said “I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it much. I just do things that I like to do when I think about doing them.” Then I asked him what those things were that he just “did” on the spur of the moment. Again, without pause, he said “I play. Don’t you do that, too?”

Well, yes, I thought, I did that quite a bit when I was 8, but now I’m a very busy, important guy with lots of bills and difficulties and promises to keep. I am tied into the routines of my day, and I can’t just drop what I’m doing and go play, kid. Some of us have things to get done, OK?

I actually thought this. Is this embarrassing, or what?

I asked if he could explain a little of what he meant when he said “I play.”

This time he looked at me like he was thinking, “Is this guy strange, or what”  and said: “I get up in the morning and I pee. Sometimes, when I’m standing there peeing, I try to make big circles or triangles or shapes or something in the toilet. Then my Mom tells me to take a shower, and when I’m in the shower I always take a mouthful of water and see if I can spit hard enough to reach the showerhead. Then, when I get out, I grab the towel and try to hit the cat with it. He’s always in the bathroom with me, and while I’m drying off I’ll fling it at him. He’ll grab the towel with his front paws, and we’ll play catch with it for a while until I have to get dressed.”

“Then when I get dressed, I always stick my hands in my socks first. I turn them into puppets and make them talk to each other before I put them on my feet. Then sometimes I put my pants on my head and walk around the room, looking for my shirt to put on over my pants. Then…”

By this time I was getting the idea. This kid had it down pat: he was an expert in the field of Play and, although he didn’t know it at the time, his rendition of his waking ritual was a how-to seminar in “Play: Inventive Strategies for Morning Protocol.”

I let the little guy ramble on about pants on his head, things he did with his cereal, and how far he could fling a Cheerio with his spoon when his mother wasn’t watching. I thanked him for his wonderfully detailed explanation, and I sent him on his way. His mother made another appointment for him, and I’m looking forward to seeing him again.

Adults put play on the back burner. Somewhere along the line, we think it’s unnecessary and a waste of time to be so silly. But this child taught me something in our first meeting that I have neglected for years: Play when you can, in any way you can, at any time you think about it. Play with your clothes, your shower water, your cat and your food. Play with your towel, your pants, and turn your socks into puppets. See how far you can spit and how many shapes you can make in the toilet when…well, you get the idea. The play you engage in is as necessary, as vital, as any task, assignment, meeting or commitment you have all day.

I can hardly wait to see this kid next week. I’m hoping he’ll conclude his tips on how to play in the morning, and start in on play for the rest of the day.

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