Playing for Research – Wise Words Wednesday

“Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein

Do you remember when jumping off a moving swing taught you that you couldn’t fly?

Do you remember when lightening bugs taught you that they die in a jar (even if you poked holes in the lid)?

Do you have any idea when you discovered that people don’t like to play with someone who smells “funny”?

I can’t say that I remember these exact experiences from my own life. I do know that it took a couple of these “real life” experiments for the lessons to sink in.

One such learning opportunity came to me in 2nd grade, as three of my classmates played “Annie.” They liked to pretend they were the sad and overworked orphans, while one acted as the mean and bossy Mrs. Hannigan.

Of course, no one ever wanted to be Mrs. Hannigan, because nobody ever wants to be the “bad guy.” (Everyone wanted to be Annie.) Hoping to win my classmates over as friends, I agreed to be Mrs. Hannigan. Soon after I established my role as Mrs. Hannigan, the “orphans” wouldn’t let me play with them. They said they were tired of playing “Annie” and were going to do something else. Something I was not invited to play with them.

I was crushed. I had been the best Mrs. Hannigan I could be, and I never even got a chance to be one of the orphans. After much pleading, one of the girls in the group said to me, “We only let you be Mrs. Hannigan because we didn’t want you to play, so we just let you chase us. We don’t want to be chased anymore. Maybe you can go chase somebody else.”

What could I say? I had done everything they wanted me to do. I did my best, but still found myself without friends. It took many more failed attempts at chasing friendship before I figured a few things out.

  1. No one wants to be the “bad guy.” Volunteering to be the “bad guy” will only take you so far. It’s okay to be the bearer of bad new sometimes, but don’t let others make you into a villain because they are too scared to tell the truth.
  2. Don’t chase friendship. If the connection isn’t easy and natural, it isn’t friendship.
  3. If people aren’t willing to take turns and share the work of all the roles, they aren’t going to be willing to impact your life in positive and diverse ways.

“Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein

A lighter life lesson via play comes to mind when I think of my son and his friend Joey.

Shortly after we finished building our house, my son had his buddy Joey over for a playdate. The weather was pretty nasty outside and, the boys ran crazily through the house and had a generally rowdy, good time. After a while, things got quiet. Quiet does not always mean things are peaceful when it comes to child’s play. I had to find out what the stillness meant. I searched the basement and the bedroom but did not find the boys. I then thought to check the bonus room above the garage.

In an effort to be thrifty and utilize all available space, we finished the area above the garage to use as a guestroom. As I approached the steps, I heard some thuds, thumps, and a lot of giggles. I then heard words that should have sent fear to my heart, “It’s snowing! It’s snowing!”

In my mind, I pictured them having an imaginary snowball fight, but in reality I should have envisioned chaos in the form of itchy insulation flakes filling up my stairwell.

The boys had wedged open the hatch to the attic and pulled out armloads of insulation and were throwing it in the air and down the stairs. They sledded down the insulation-covered stairs as if whipping down snow-covered mountain slopes. It only took a few loud thumps coming down the stairs before my suspicions were peaked. I opened the door and all I could do was yell for Hubby. As my husband made his way to the steps and saw the insulation avalanche, he muttered a word that is not G-rated and asked the boys, “What the hell are you doing?”

My son triumphantly announced, “It’s snowing!”

It didn’t take long for the boys to figure out that we weren’t as excited about their discovery as they were. The boys were instructed to clean up the “snowy” situation and then plunked into the bathtub to scrub off the itchy residue left by insulation. As they scrubbed away the scratchiness, I vacuumed the steps and bonus room twice. When Joe’s parents arrived, I had to explain why his clothes were in the washing machine and that he might be a bit itchy for a while. They were mortified that our new home would be sullied by insulation and fully supported our decision to make the boys clean up the mess.

The insulation incident was an experiment in play that taught us all some very valuable lessons.

  1. If you make a mess, be prepared to clean it up.
  2. If you don’t know what’s on the other side AND you have to pry a door open, keep out!
  3. Insulation is good for keeping things warm, but is terrible for keeping things clean.
  4. Insulation is itchy.
  5. If the kids are suddenly quiet, ALWAYS check on what they are doing.

Learning from play and the fun and games of others allows us to research the ins and outs of relationships, discovery, failure, and success. Consider the amusing ways you have learned life’s lessons. While some of our analysis has been gleaned from painful processes, we can always be grateful that we grew from the experience. Hopefully, as parents, grandparents, neighbors, teachers, and community members, we can find fun and productive ways to produce societal results that reflect love, compassion, humor, and understanding.

“Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein

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Albert Einstein did not become THE Albert Einstein by letting learning opportunities pass him by. Take a page from his book of bright ideas and let play be an essential tool for sharing what it is to be a productive and positive friend, neighbor, employee, and citizen.

By: Melanie A. Peters

P.S. What lessons from play have stuck with you?


3 thoughts on “Playing for Research – Wise Words Wednesday

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