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Like kids, adults need "Free Play"

A few Sundays ago, a dear friend of mine and I decided to take advantage of the unseasonably mild weather and go hiking in a nearby state park. Countless cars greeted us when we arrived. We obviously hadn't been the only ones to have this brilliant idea. The park was busy with dog walkers, families spending time together, and bicyclists. Leaving everything in the car but one phone, we jumped from our seats and joined them. The path into the woods was calling.

As we began our ascent, I turned to my friend and stated while pointing towards a bright red marker, "So these are the markers we need to follow." In response, my friend replied, "Why don't we not worry about the markers and just hike?"

I was shocked, then dismayed for reasons you might not expect.

I was shocked because the idea of "just hiking," without rules to follow or goals to reach had simply not occurred to me. And dismayed because it hadn't for some time now and probably wouldn't have, given my friend hadn't suggested "hiking" in this manner.

The entire notion was rather liberating and transformative -- transporting me back to the days when I was a child and such types of play were commonplace in my life. A sense of adventure, excitement, and freedom immediately rose up in me, leading the two of us to spend a couple of hours hiking in the woods that day. We talked. We laughed. And we found our way back without any need of a GPS to do so. The original country girl in me found her stride.

The exhilaration of that hike has stayed with me ever since, partially because I continue to marvel at how distant "me" and "free play" have become in my adult life. As much as I am a firm believer of it in children's lives, somehow I had allowed it to nearly disappear from mine, despite the benefits and virtues it holds for me too. I, daresay, I am not alone.

Too many of us, adults, in an our effort to be 'grown-up' and 'responsible', forget to "free play."

Structure sits at the very center of our core, daily activities, and even fun. And yet, it is "free play" that will help each of us to continue to be adaptable when age and caution entices us to become rigid; childlike, during moments when we grapple with perspective and stress; and adventurous, at times when most no longer see the world as wonder-filled and wonderful.

Without it, we suffer similar harmful effects as our kids, including growing old before our time. We also stand to set a very poor example in this regard for them to follow, both today and in the future.

Bike rides with no agenda, empty canvasses where you simply begin to paint, and cooking without a recipe are great examples of "free play" that I offer you to coax your mind to think up some of your own. I promise, once you get going, you will have plenty of options to choose from, especially as the joy of playing freely kicks in. The big kid inside of you will take over, unlocking your desire and imagination to do so again.

You will be surprised at how re-invigorated you feel and probably find yourself asking the question, "What took me so long?"

Might I urge you to answer yourself the very best way possible -- by pushing it aside in lieu of time better spent "free playing." After all, the big kid inside really doesn't care much about that answer. He or she just wants to have fun.

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