Let’s Play: Creative-Free Play in the Spring

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

April Showers

Spring. The peas are planted. The bulb flowers are starting to emerge. The kids are running out of school seeking the sun and fresh air. Mud. Worms. Puddles. Bugs. Green grass.

One of the best things my mom did for us was providing hours of unstructured free play. She gave us the gift of just being kids.

With this fresh, new season I am challenging you to head outside with the kids, but take nothing from inside. No toys. No sports equipment. Nothing. Snack before you go. At least for an hour or two, forget all the ideas that today’s kids need classes and team sports and organized fun and electronics. It is okay to get bored to the point that you need to hunt around and investigate your surroundings to occupy yourself. Some of the best memories from my childhood are wandering about with my brother exploring the creatures living in the creek, poking at things with sticks and sending leaves floating in the puddles after a heavy rain. We had a lot of free play time growing up in the countryside in the 70s. My mom never had to be reminded that kids need exercise and fresh air. She frequently sent us out after school to play while dinner was cooking. We figured out which trees were best to climb and sit in to watch the neighborhood. We could spy on the little old lady next door while she fussed over her garden and rocked in her porch chair. We chased after the baby chicks and hoped to catch one before the hen caught us. We found worms and daddy long legs and ants and tad poles to watch. We had our own science investigations right out the back door. We made mud pies. We got dirty. Very dirty. Of course there were days we complained of boredom, but my mom knew a few minutes outside searching and we would get so involved that is was torture to stop and come inside for dinner as the sun was setting. One of the best things my mom did for us was providing hours of unstructured free play. She gave us the gift of just being kids.

In contrast, may daughter and I live a block from Main Street in Northampton. Very different than the open countryside I grew up wandering, but with a tiny, tiny bit of effort we can walk a few blocks and explore. The gardens at Smith College are 4 blocks away. My daughter can easily spend an hour looking for flowers and watching the garden’s tiny creatures. She enjoyed this at age 3 and still loves it at age 8. I have fun because I get to be a kid and wander again. We can walk beyond the groomed garden paths and wander the river walk behind the college. There are so many things to see and discover. We don’t need to bring anything. Just ourselves and a willingness to explore. Try it. Relaxed downtime outside can be the best family therapy available.


Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie continues to do freelance work for clients here and in Chicago.

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