Everything I Need to Know, I Learned at the Playground

By Melissa Stefanec

The sun is setting earlier and earlier, and spending an autumn evening at the playground is my family’s way of savoring the outdoors before the dark winter evenings set in. One such evening, as we pulled into the playground’s parking lot, my children started scouting the lot for other cars. They offered their usual refrain, “How many cars are here? I hope we meet some new friends.”

For some reason, the power and simplicity of this phrase set in. I’ve heard iterations of it on many occasions; however, that evening, it sent my mind wondering. As adults, we are constantly imparting wisdom on our children. Some days, I have to remind myself to learn from them as well. What can I learn from watching my children play their hearts out?

• Don’t be afraid to join the fun — If we go to a playground, most of us adults stand around the perimeter. We offer slight correction to our children. We make small talk with each other. We don’t bother with playing, but we should. I’m not saying we should join our kids as they walk up the slide 35 times in a row but playing for just a few minutes can really boost one’s mood. When we leave the playground, we should reflect on how much fun it was to join people who were celebrating life.

• When we join the fun, play hard — We should all take a lesson from our kids and put the same fervor and passion into our play as we do our work and other obligations. Kids play hard. It’s how they make the best out of a challenging world. The ways of the world don’t change as we age, but how we deal with the ways of the world does. If we gave ourselves the permission to play hard, it would lighten our loads.

• We will get hurt —Life isn’t a constant stream of fun. We all know this. The playground teaches us that pain is inevitable. Whether literally or proverbially, we will all fall flat on our faces. Just when we think we have the hang of something, we will bash some part of our body and momentarily cripple ourselves. It will be hard to get back up. We will cry and dabble in the blame game. However, if we want to have fun again, we will have to find the energy and faith to pick it back up and start again.

• Judge people by how they treat others — When we meet someone new, we shouldn’t look at how old or new the minivan they pulled up in was. When we introduce ourselves, we shouldn’t look at how worn or off-label their shoes are; we should look for kindness in their eyes. When someone treats us with respect, that should be all we need to know about them.

• Make new friends and weed out the jerks — If you approach strangers with an open mind and heart, you can usually get along with those strangers. Sure, there is an occasional jerk in the crowd. The person who thinks they are better than others or too cool to engage. We would all do better if we ignored that jerk, moved on the next person and had some fun together.

• We’re never too old to play — We grownups don’t dedicate a lot of time to whimsy. Even when we engage in grownup play, there’s an end goal we’re trying to reach. We’re pushing through the workout or teaching our children a board game. It would do most of us some good to climb on a swing, swing through the air and turn our faces to the sky.

• The days are not long enough — No matter our age, there never seems to be enough hours in the day. Fun is a funny thing; no matter how much of it we have, it leaves us wanting more. Whether we are young or old, it’s hard to stop having fun and return to the mundane. So, when the opportunity for enjoyment presents itself, we should seize and savor it.

• The people having the most fun are kind — When we look around the playground, the jerks aren’t having all that much fun. The people having fun are the ones who found a way to get along with others, even if it took a little extra effort.

Helping someone else makes two people happy — When we see someone struggling, we owe it to them and ourselves to help. Whether it’s going down the steepest slide, getting to the top of the cargo net or hugging a friend during a difficult time, helping makes everyone feel good.