How Original Play Can Strengthen Family Bonds

Uncategorized Nov 06, 2023

Do you intentionally play together with your family? How do you invite your family members to join you in play and maintain emotional connection when someone gets upset? These were questions I wanted answers to, especially in partnership with my spouse. When Kri, the organizer of a weekend play workshop in Portland, offered an opportunity for me, my husband, and our son to participate together in a Play After Play* experience, I was thrilled!

At the Play after Play Theater, the acting team, Marc Otto and Melanya Helene, performed a 20-minute show based on a folk tale, with just a few props and traditional songs. "The play will begin, and then the play will end," Melanya said. "That is the time for wild applause."

After the play, it was time for the "after" part of Play after Play: playtime. My family gathered with other families filled with anticipation around the tumbling mats where Marc, Melanya, and Kri each invited a child into the middle of the circle to "play" with them. They got down on the floor with the kids, mimicked their movements, rolled and flipped, tumbled and swayed, giving piggyback rides and frolicking like kittens. When they clapped twice, it was another child's turn.

Kri turned, crouching on the mat, catching my son's eye with a smile as she invited him with first, a tap of her hand on the mat, followed with an extended open hand to join her. My son hesitated but a moment, glanced at me for reassurance; when I nodded with a smile he scampered onto the mat with the fluid movements of a big cheetah.

Mimicking his every move, Kri crouched as they made wide circles facing one another. Suddenly my son sprang forward and Kri sprang to meet him mid-air. Catching my son's body with an open arm, she flipped him over her back using an open hand to catch and cradle his head as he rolled onto the mat. The play was on - springing, rolling, and tumbling, the two cavorted with resonant energy. Hearing two claps from her hands, my son scampered off the mat into my waiting arms.

After every child had a turn, Kri motioned everyone to gather close together in the center of the mats. She asked the children, "Did Marc, Melanya, or Kri kick?" "Noooo." the children answered in unison. "No," she agreed, "kicking is not play."

"Did Marc, Melanya, or Kri grab?" "Nooo." was the resounding answer and Kri agreed, "No, grabbing is not play."

"Did Marc, Melanya, or Kri hurt or tickle anyone?" "No" the children called out and Kri once again agreed, "No, hurting or tickling is not play."

"Play is when everyone is safe, taking care of each other. If the play isn't safe then it's okay to stop and say, that isn't play." Kri told the children and their families.

"Now, would you like to play some more?" The children answered, "Yes!" with great enthusiasm, and whole family groups were invited to join in, family by family, into the circle of play.

As I watched the families join in, supported by the facilitators, I saw with greater clarity the 3 skills sets - all intertwined: emotions, physical skills (how to handle self and keep people safe), and grace.

Original play is an incredible discipline. Nothing is random. Body, shoulders, fingers, and head - everything is an art as if doing..which in turn can deepen our emotional connection with each other. As we played and laughed together, I felt a sense of joy and connection that I had not experienced in a long time.

Overall, my experience at the Play After Play workshop taught me the importance of intentional play in building strong emotional connections with my family members. By mimicking each other's movements and engaging in safe, fun play, we can deepen our emotional bonds and develop important social skills. I am grateful for the opportunity to have participated in such a wonderful experience with my family and look forward to incorporating these skills into our daily lives and with our grandchildren.


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