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Cultivating a Sense of Play without Children

By Victoria Fryer 

On the campus of the university where I work, there is a beautiful arboretum area to which was recently added a children’s garden. I visited yesterday for the first time for a work-related photo shoot and was struck by how many fun things there were to do. There was a set of chimes to play, a large caterpillar to climb, and cave formations to explore. My first thought was, “I wish I had a reason to come here.”

And then I thought, “Wait—why can’t I?” There were plenty of people walking through the space without children, from college kids to older couples and everyone in between. There’s no reason why adults can’t play, even if they don’t have children.

Recent research has shown that play is beneficial not only to children, but to adults as well. Play brings about relaxation, inspires creativity, and deepens connections. And, for my husband and I, it adds a number of things to our list of ways we can spend time with each other at the weekends.

I’ve written before about how we live in a rural area. There aren’t too many things for us to do, outside of going out to eat, having a drink in our favorite bar, or going to friends’ houses. I would love to go to theatres, art galleries, or concerts, but those things just aren’t really a reality for us at this time unless we’re willing to travel several hours.

Play is an important way for us to step out of our daily grind and have fun together, and I think as adults—especially, if not exclusively, for adults without children—we often forget how to do that. We don’t have little ones around wanting to go to the park, asking questions that inspire our curiosity, or seeing things from a new perspective. But I think it’s important for us to try to view life from that new, fresh perspective every now and then, and try to incorporate play into our everyday lives.

Some of the ways we’ve done this in the past:

Go to the park. While we don’t have a lot of artistic or “urban” things to do in town, we do have some beautiful parks. We’ll go and walk around the paved paths, sit on the benches and admire the river, or, you know, actually play! I love to climb the rock walls (luckily I’m pretty short), try my hand at the monkey bars, and swing. Last time we were at the park, I got on the merry-go-round and made my husband push me in circles until I was dizzy as I took slow-motion video with my cell phone. Every once in a while I watch that video again and feel that exhilarating, playful feeling all over again.

Build a snowman. It’s no secret that I am a winter-hater. I grew up in the southern part of the USA, so I’m used to mild winters and the hottest summers. I loved it. Now that I live in a part of the country that has all four seasons and regular snowfall in the winter, I have to find ways to be less miserable in the winter. Building snowmen, having snowball fights, and just plain playing in the snow is how I do that. Although, let’s just say the last time I started a snowball fight, I lost. Badly.

Walk the dog. Is there anything more playful than a dog? I learn so much from my two mutts. When the weather is nice—and often when it’s not—they’ll lay in the grass and enjoy the sunshine, roll around on their backs, or chase a ball. And nothing makes me laugh harder than a rousing tug-of-war game with a nice, big rope!

Ride a bike. As spring starts, well, spring here in Pennsylvania, I love to get on my bicycle and ride the trails. While there’s nothing inherently childlike about riding a bicycle, doing it with no set destination or timeline can give me that same sense of play that I feel when I’m on a playground or throwing snowballs at my husband.

Get out on the water. One of the best purchases we’ve made since being married was our pair of kayaks that we bought last summer. Like the bike, there’s nothing inherently childlike about kayaking, but being on the water gives me an opportunity to put the pressures of adult life behind me and just enjoy the environment around me.

And finally, I know that the next weekend we’re both free, I’m going to take my husband to that children’s garden—and maybe even play a song on the chimes.

How do you cultivate your sense of play without children?

Victoria Fryer is a 31-year-old writer and content strategist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two pit bulls. You can find her on Twitter @extoria.

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