San Pedro de Saño is a relatively rural town around half an hour outside of Huancayo. One of its poorest neighborhoods is filled with immigrants from Huancavelica, the poorest province in Peru. There, everyone knows each other, many are intricately related to each other, and children play freely in the streets.When I visited, a little 8-year-old girl appointed herself to be my tour guide and playmate. I realized that I don’t remember what my playground days were like. Did I sit on a swing with my best friend and gossip with her about classmates like I did today with my new friend? The little girl told me about the playful dog and the one that bites, how she usually only plays with one girl because the other two girls bother her in class, and how the teacher didn’t punish her when she beat-up an 8-year-old boy to defend her 7-year-old friend from being bullied. She taught me how to go down the slide facedown and showed me how fast she could climb up the simple jungle gym, sliding easily down the fireman's pole. "Let's see how fast I can do it!" she said as she climbed and slid until she was out of breath. Then, we jumped up and down, laughing, on the seesaw; she took the side with the broken seat panel because she was used to it. I watched the kids play jacks and pogs on the sidewalk. Then, they played jacks and pogs on the roof of the school until they finally got a hold of the rope they were waiting patiently for from the adults who were using it for construction. The eldest of the group and older brother of my little friend led the way to the tree where he shuffled directly up the thin and smooth-barked tree trunk over 20 feet high, I don’t know how, to hang the rope over the top offshoot. They tied a branch to the end of the rope and used it as a makeshift hanging trapeze, jumping from one side of the ridge to the other. As impressed as I was by their ingenuity, I was even more impressed by my little friend. Whenever there was a spare moment, she always found a way to entertain herself and always with the widest smile on her face. “Here I am, dancing,” she would say. “Dance with me!” And later, I would find her spinning around in circles with her arms open to the air, giggling hysterically at how dizzy she felt afterward.
What I want to learn from these children in Peru is how to truly find joy in each moment, to make the best of any situation, to be resourceful, and to harness playful creativity.
Do you incorporate play into your life? Why or why not? If so, how?