When was the last time you skipped down the street, dressed up as a princess, marveled at the sound of snow crunching beneath your feet, pretended to be a fictional character, had a dance party or made up a silly song? I am not embarrassed to admit that I have done all of the above in the last couple of years (if not many of these in the last couple of days)! When engaging in such activities I have been met with a mix of reactions. On the one hand there are those who find my playful nature somewhat intriguing and “refreshing”. Perhaps those who know me better are the more likely group to laugh and say
“That’s just Rachel” or jokingly exclaim,
“You’re such a child!”
Of course these are just off-hand remarks but similar examples have really started to make me question when it is that many of us lose a lot of our ‘child-like’ qualities. By this I mean, at what point do we lose the natural ability to wonder, explore, question and play without giving it second thought?
A more important question to consider is perhaps, are these qualities really lost and can we find them again? I would argue that they are not lost, just buried beneath societal and self expectations, fear of standing out and the need to conform as a way of feeling a sense of belonging. We simply need to dig down deep beneath the pile that has formed inside and get back in touch with our inner child.
At no point in life are we handed a rulebook which states that becoming an adult means that all forms of play and fun should be suppressed, or worse banned. It is only natural to have a higher expectation of yourself as you grow up, potentially due to a feeling of greater responsibility or the need to act as someone who has it ‘all together’ as other younger people may look up to you. As children many of us cannot wait to be adults, yet as soon as we enter this significant milestone we have a tendency to look back on the ‘good old days’ and may wish to experience the freedom of childhood once again.
One of my favourite hoodies has “I can’t adult today” printed on the front of it. On one occasion when wearing this hoodie my dad asked me what it was about being an adult that I couldn’t do. At the time I was reluctant to answer this question because it was one of those days when I did not want to think about what it was that I was trying to avoid – I am sure we have all been there! However, I said something along the lines of, “I just want to play and have fun without worrying about all the responsibilities that come with being an adult”. His response to this is something that has really stuck with me. He asked me to consider a third option. Not to see adulthood as hard and stressful but to bring the joys of childhood into the situations that my adult life presents me with. At the time I was not ready to hear this – after all it can sometimes appear easier to just immerse ourselves in the many woes of life – but of course he was right. Why do we feel the need to leave behind the aspects of our lives that we hold so dearly in our memories?
Why, as adults, are we so easily embarrassed to just be a little bit silly? How many people would be comfortable to randomly break out into song and dance, in front of others, without being under the influence of alcohol? How does your answer to this question make you feel? Is there a sense of longing to care that bit less and feel that bit more free? There are of course situations (such as being under the influence) that as a society we see as ‘more acceptable’ for allowing ourselves to get in touch with our playful tendencies. Other examples of when we may deem it ‘more acceptable’ to openly see the world with the wonder of a child are: big celebrations e.g. getting very excited about Christmas and birthdays; when on holiday abroad away from everyone we know; when it snows and we build snowmen, go sledging, make snow angels and have snowball fights. These examples may bring up other ideas of situations which you personally feel more able to slip into that care free, child-like mindset. But why should we have to limit the amount of time we spend feeling excited, care free and having fun?
From a teaching perspective, it is important to consider how early we are feeding children this idea that when you grow up you do not need to play. Unfortunately, we are still seeing examples of practice which suggest that play is only for children in the Early Years. Why? Is this a message we want to keep passing on to the next generation? How wonderful would it be if we all felt comfortable and able to play, without fear of judgement, throughout the whole of our childhood and adulthood? However, if this is to be the case, teachers, parents and whole communities will need to fully enter into the spirit of what it means to reconnect with our inner child. If we want the children in our schools to play, enquire and explore then we need to show them that this is something that we are committed to and that it is a valued outlook, which will continue to support them as they develop in their adult lives.
Now this is where a skeptical person might say, “Yes, in an ideal world…” but why strive for anything less than what we perceive to be ideal? We may not get it perfect but we will never know what could be if we do not jump on board with the magical question that is, “What if?”
So, I have a theory. Somewhere along the lines we, as adults, have lost the confidence that we had as children to not give two monkeys about what other people think about our funky moves, wacky tutus and wild imagination! It appears that we need to relearn how to be as carefree as a child. And who better to teach us than children themselves? Granted, it may have been a while since you yourself were a child but if you take the time to talk to any pre-school child, I can almost guarantee that you will be amazed by their natural ability to see the world as it is, without over complicating things, to express each emotion as they feel them and to use their imagination to see the world in the most magical way. Take a few minutes to watch this clip and notice how confident the children are at simply being themselves, saying what they think, asking and answering questions and engaging in play scenarios.
I am not suggesting that convincing all adults to reconnect with their child-like selves is an easy task, but it just takes a few people to fly the flag for viewing the world in a more explorative way, to intrigue others to ask those burning questions once deemed ridiculous; dance around and sing a funny song; and marvel once more at the many wonders of life.
So the next time someone comments that I am acting like a ‘child’, I will take it as a compliment. I challenge you to spend a little bit of time each day reengaging with your inner child – I promise it is in there somewhere! Don’t be ashamed to ask the crazy questions, laugh until your stomach hurts, roll down a grassy hill or wonder how many ants it would take to lift an elephant. Tell an exaggerated story, have a pillow fight, make a fort, do some role play. However you choose to reengage, remember to share the joy of your new outlook with others and promote the idea that is ok to care less about what others think, no matter what age you are.