It was the Saturday after Halloween and the unexpectedly warm Pennsylvania weather beckoned us all to go outside. The grandchildren were riding bikes and the adults, walking with the dog, were trying to catch up. Upon nearing the neighborhood lake, complete with geese and grassy knolls, the children called out to us, “Let’s play here!” Nana, Papa and the dog were left with the kids as the other adults headed home to gather the fixings for a picnic lunch.
We removed our shoes and started exploring the terrain barefoot – experiencing the sandy beach of the lake, trying to avoid goose poop between our toes. The lake water cleaned our dirty feet and enticed us to look for fish and skip stones. Looking for a container to fill with water, I found a discarded water bottle and, deeper in the tangled brush, a bright green playground ball.
My grandson and I started playing with it, tossing it back and forth. He proceeded to make up his own game of bounce-catch on top of a nearby picnic table.
“Nana, how many bounces will there be before you catch it?” he asked. Then he announced some rules about the number of points received depending on where the ball bounced on the table.
The green ball became the center of attention after lunch as well as children began kicking it on the grass and said, “Let’s play soccer!” Parents, grandparents and kids aligned across from each other, three against three. Toy sand trucks became goal posts on either end of our “field” and the game commenced. Running and kicking, fetching and throwing; children and adults all laughing and sweating. The best part of our afternoon was the unplanned, spontaneous play initiated by the boys.
A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics says what children really need for healthy development is time for more old-fashioned play. Free play is essential for healthy physical, emotional, social and intellectual development and helps form the foundation for creative thinking.
The found ball was the provocation for family time, physical activity and FUN! Being involved, active and playful is one of the best gifts grandparents, parents or teachers give our children.