I’ve often wondered how long a kid would play if no adult ever said it was time to (choose one): eat lunch, clean up, come inside, go potty or go to bed.
Whenever we were at a state park when the kids were young, our son never wanted to leave. Given the choice, he would always choose to go deeper into the woods, perhaps even opting to be raised by wolves should he be given the opportunity.
And yet, I always thought kids eventually would come inside on their own—say when the sun went down, coyotes started to howl or the temperature dipped. Anymore I’m not so sure.
And now history repeats itself. Give our son’s 4-year-old boy the choice between living in a temperature-controlled home with electricity, running water and a clean bed, or living in the red plastic sandbox shaped like a giant crab, and he will look at you like you are deranged for even asking.
I couldn’t find him in the backyard one day because he was in the sandbox, flat on his belly with the side of his face plastered to the sand, driving trucks over hills and mounds, creating roadways with spoons and shovels.
When it was time for lunch, he asked if he could eat in the sandbox. There is no point warning a kid who has sand covering one side of his face that sand might get in his food.
The need to play is universal at every stage of childhood.
I had an 8-month-old here the other day as I pulled sheets from the dryer and told her I would show her how to make a bed. “Ba, ba, ba, ba!” she jabbered. “That’s exactly how I feel about it, too,” I said.
I sat her on the bedroom floor and tossed a pillowcase her way. She grabbed it and held it so close to her eyes it would make an adult go cross-eyed. She batted it with her hands and then began chewing on it. I took the sheets to put on the bed and tossed a blanket beside her. She grabbed it, inspected the weave like she was a buyer for Pottery Barn, and then began gumming the tag.
“Watch it,” I said. “That could be one of those Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law tags. I’d hate to tell your mom and dad that you were arrested.”
“Ba, ba, ba!” she shrieked.
“Try telling that to the cops,” I said.
She spun on her belly, backed herself into a corner and twisted around with all of her legs and arms pointed in opposing directions. It was like watching a contortionist without having to pay full-ticket price. Five minutes turned into 10 and 15 stretched to 20.
She did more belly spins, twisted and rolled, babbled away and studied her hand at close range. She probably would have stayed there all afternoon dust mopping the hardwoods on her tummy, but you-know-who said the party was over and that we were going back downstairs.
How long would a kid play, discover and explore?
Hopefully all the way into adulthood and far beyond.