Play and childhood seem to be – or at least used to be–  synonymous. With the simple directive, “Go play outside,” parents gave their children a free pass to a kind of freedom that is all too often left behind (and longed for) as we transition into adulthood.

Looking back, most of us can recall fondly the time we were kids , days when free time was spent dreaming up magical lands, digging holes to China, climbing trees, skinning knees, and praying the street lights would never come on. Play was not a term puffed up with its own importance, but rather a way of life, a positive choice. Today it is all too easy to glorify those days gone by and look with disdain at the way kids these days choose to spend their free time.

With the injection of so many “screens” into the modern-day childhood experience and the associated (and frightening) numbers that go with the screens, like the average of seven hours kids spend in front of them,  it is easy to conclude we are headed towards a society without the inclination or ability to celebrate wild imaginations and wild places. There is a mountain of evidence and facts that support this notion, but I am writing from my own limited, but very relevant experiences. With a background as an educator in more traditional settings and in my current role as program director for the Telluride Academy, I have witnessed both the power of play and how much play has changed, at least in concept, over the past 10 years.

Kids today seem reluctant, even confused, when presented with the notion of “free play.” They have a fear of dirt and unknown places. There seems to be a need for more coaxing kids into letting go of their concepts of playing and letting their imaginations take hold. A very old definition of play started out with the words “To pay attention.” If you’ve ever witnessed, as I have, the transition of a kid resistant to an opportunity for “free play” into a fully engaged participant, you are likely to agree with the ancient wisdom. There is comfort to be taken from the fact that imaginations, given the opportunity,  still rise to the surface, and that given the command “Go play outside,” most kids will discover that “dirt don’t hurt” and dragons still live in the backyard.

And Telluride has a particularly large backyard.

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