Persons, places and things: Playtime!


By Barb Arland-Fye

A young mom shared her frustration about the lack of playtime at her children’s new school in Iowa. She and her family recently moved from the Iowa Quad Cities to a small community elsewhere in Iowa where she said she was told that the school prided itself on high test scores. Her kindergartener spends the day doing worksheets and returns home having meltdowns because of homework. “What happened to playtime?” she asked during a state-organized listening post on children’s mental health at the Mississippi Bend AEA in Bettendorf. The mom said her first-grader hadn’t brought home one art project yet — and we’re already into October. Where’s the fun if you can’t make art?


I felt this mom’s pain. Years ago, when my older son Colin was in kindergarten, he ran away from school into the cornfields that existed behind the elementary building. No one could figure out why he ran away, but common sense made me think he just wanted to play! Sure, he had recess, but as a child with autism who struggled with social skills, recess became an obstacle to fun. Colin loved to swing, as high as he could soar, and still does, even at age 31.

Colin’s joy of swinging on a swing set as an adult initially embarrassed me. But don’t we all need to play, regardless of age? I remember crossing the monkey bars with my son Patrick when he was about 4 and I was 41. The aches and pains in my middle-aged arms after that playtime signaled the need to engage in play more suitable to my physical condition — running, bicycling and swimming.


When I was in high school, an instructor in psychology class told his students that even adults need time to play. We all laughed at the thought of adults playing, but that instructor was on to something. All of us need time to set aside the worries of the world and play whatever wholesome activity gives us joy.

For me, bicycling, swimming and walking are activities for playtime. They give me great joy. This past Sunday, I took a bicycle ride along the Mississippi River and then into the woods of another recreation trail. It was magical, seeing the leaves on trees just turning to autumn colors and listening to water in the creek splashing against the rocks. Families with young children and older adults strolled along the trail. I felt sheer bliss and reveled in the beauty of God’s creation, even on a moody-looking Sunday.

In the “Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis speaks of “the joy which we experience daily, amid the little things of life, as a response to the loving invitation of God our Father: ‘My child, treat yourself well, according to your means… Do not deprive yourself of the day’s enjoyment’ (Sirach 14:11, 14) …”

My mother reminds me often to make room for enjoyment in the day, to take time to laugh. Whenever we visit my parents, we know we will be playing some game that causes us to laugh almost to tears.

I hope and pray that the mom I met at that listening post will convince educators that playtime is essential to children’s well-being. The educators — and the rest of us — need time for play, too. Maybe that would ease the tension and division in our world, if we made time to laugh with one another.

(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at

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