At some point in childhood 'play*' becomes a baby word. In its' place older children/teens say things like: 'I'm going to hang out with...' They no longer 'play at the park'; instead they 'hang out at the park.' Unless of course they are referring to a sport in which case 'playing' is allowed.** But even then they are often just: 'shooting some hoops' instead of 'playing basketball.' This year if I asked my grade 4's what they did at lunch they would tell me about who they played with, and what they played. By the end of the year my grade 6 students would tell me they hung out with their friends at lunch, and would less frequently talk about playing. Thankfully, even my most jaded grade 6 would still occasionally talk about how she and her friends played tag. I can't articulate why I feel this way yet, but somehow I think that it is important to hold on to 'play'.
I remember the summer between grade 6 and 7 when I was 12 years old. A new girl had moved in 2 doors down from me. My mom had told me her dad was looking for kids her age to meet her so I -bravely- walked up to her front door and knocked. When her father answered the door I asked "Can Anne come out to play?" He gave me a funny look and I instantly realised that 'play' wasn't the word kids my age used anymore. I am sure I turned bright red on the spot. Anne's father looked at me to see if I was just trying to be funny or if I was really being serious. After what seemed like a lifetime, he went in and got Anne to come to the door. I really didn't know how else to phrase what I said in a way that sounded more teenagery, and felt like an idiot for not being 'cooler'. I knew that 'play' wasn't the word I should be using as a preteen, but didn't know why, or what word I should have used instead. It was like I was learning English as a second language, even though I could speak it fluently.
Last month I discovered that 'play' definitely becomes a questionable word when you are an adult if you are not talking about what children do.
This past Wednesday at my staff dinner I had to give the farewell speech to my friend +Liam O'Donnell, wishing him well at his new school. Which I admitted during my speech, I felt silly doing since I knew that I would still be seeing him in the future and playing with him. I quickly realized I said the wrong thing. This time however, instead of strange looks, I heard giggling coming from many of my colleagues. I literally meant I would be playing with Liam, online in Minecraft or maybe even in Neverwinter, but the word 'play' was interpreted completely differently by many of the other adults present. It became an off coloured joke. I scolded my colleagues calling them 'children,' and continued speaking. Looking back, calling them children seems like the wrong label to have given them since I'm pretty sure children too, would have understood what I meant. The kindergarten teachers were the only ones who did not laugh. They understood what I meant and were confused by the giggling. I love kindergarten teachers.
What does the various ways this word is used say about how we value (or don't value) play? Is it difficult to imagine adults playing without it being something dirty or infantile? Is play only something reserved for children?
* When I say play I am talking about playing: free play, or playing a game, not playing on an organized sport team
**Just in case you didn't already know: this blog is mostly about my opinions and I can't back up my observations with actual studies on the speech patterns and/or sign/signifiers that are often used by children and youth. But if you have them, I would gladly read them.