Here are a few of my most vivid memories as a kid. My dad pushing me on a swing as we counted to 100 in English and then Spanish. My dad helping me set up my Hot Wheels tracks from room to room all around the house. Playing football at the neighborhood park with my step-brothers and step-dad. Backgammon tournaments at my dad’s house that went late into the night.
When I became a dad, I committed to providing as much playtime as I could for my daughter. The first game we played was probably peek-a-boo. My wife ran a play date at our home 5 days a week for a couple of years filling our house with giggles, shrieks of joy, some shedding of tears and tons of love. During every holiday gathering we would play cards, a favorite board game or put together a puzzle with aunts, uncles and grandparents. Usually we let the kids decide, but sometimes Nana would want to teach the young kids a favorite activity from her childhood. My favorite was learning how to make maple candy in the snow.
I remember kicking a soccer ball around, tossing a football, taking my hands off her bike the first time as she rode around solo, sliding, swinging running and all kinds of other activities at the nearby park. I wrestled a lot with my Sweetpea on the floor and our bed. Maybe that helped plant the seed for karate 10 years later.
She had a little desk in the corner of the living room with piles of colored pencils, markers and crayons. She’d spend hours dreaming and drawing and covering our fridge with her imagination. We read all kinds of books together, she made up plays with her friends and looked up at the night sky to discover constellations. Now she is in college pursuing art and mythology.
We played together. We created space for her to play alone. We invited friends and cousins over so she could play socially. We tried our best to encourage play when she wasn’t in school, working a summertime job or cramming for a test.
In just the few proceeding paragraphs, I see a lifetime of learning, connection, joy and growth. Good communication, sportsmanship, empathy, compassion, confidence, resilience, intelligence, imagination, sharing, curiosity, problem solving, creativity, sadness, happiness, failure and success…it’s all in there. As is learning to read, speaking a second language, creating art, digging into history, getting excited for science, bonding with family and friends, building traditions, playing sports, discovering your passions, doing better in school and work, developing good judgment and so much more.
There are many time demands on kids and families. But, if we can make a little more time for play, I believe our kids will be significantly better for it. And, speaking from personal experience, so will all the Dads.
For over 20 years, Matt Brown has been leading high-performing teams to develop vibrant business cultures, invent and launch high-impact branded platforms, and turn around underperforming brands and businesses. Matt consults with Fortune 500 and early stage companies, usually working with the C-suite. He also co-founded a couple of companies including big BOING, an integrated strategy, innovation and development company that partnered with Kraft, Disney, Coca Cola, Nickelodeon, Hasbro, Learning Curve and others to invent, design and launch (or completely overhaul) major domestic and international brands.