Play is the most basic human way to learn, to be, to experience joy.

We met some families at a local place this afternoon. One of the benefits of being a home educator is having great museums, local attractions, etc all be crowd free during school hours, so my heart sank a bit when a school group of thirty kids walked into the reception area. Our plan was to head to the soft play first, and I imagined all the ‘big kids’ totally dominating the space.

When we showed our membership card, I hesitantly inquired to see if the staff member knew the school group’s schedule, so we could avoid the play area when they were there. She brightly said, ‘Oh, don’t worry. They are here to do only educational things, so they won’t be doing any playing.’

Things we (meaning any of the three adults and seven children in our little group) learned today while just playing:

the definition of friction
What happens on a slide of you are barefoot or in socks? Is it easier to go up or down with bare or socked feet?

bravery
A boy in our group desperately wanted to attempt the death slide, but found it too scary. With us cheering him on and his mum offering some physical help, he did it. It took a lot of false starts, a lot of courage, and some clever adaptations and he succeeded like a champ.

trust and friendship between ages
M also wanted to go on the above slide, and did so with the help of his grown up friend. She held her toddler on her lap, and M’s hand, and both boys had HUGE smiles on. M went down the slide three times with her, happy to take the steep leap of faith and joy while trusting another human to be there with him.

what an allergic reaction looks like
I was asked this in regards to M, as someone was eating something with sesame in and wondered what would happen to M if he had any. We talked about hives, swelling, airway constriction, and what would happen if any of this stuff occurred.

joy
Death slides with friends, chasing each other, racing down not so scary slides.

cooperation
The kids needed to work out how to share two tractors that had no power source. This proved no problem, and they took turns riding and pushing each other.

imagination
Balls from the ball pit were diamonds. Various colours were worth more or less, the ballpit alternated between a cave and a deep diving pool, people pretended to be miners or animals guarding the diamonds.

physical dexterity
Trying and accomplishing new feats, sometimes on their own, sometimes with advice or encouragement for others.

dealing with hurt feelings
One child was confused and hurt by the actions of others. They had to talk through their hurt, and the others involved needed to understand why they had hurt someone, and how to reassure that person it wouldn’t happen again.

reading
What does that sign say? Does this sign say this?! I knew because of the picture, and there was an R and I know what sound that makes.

maths
How do we divvy up the diamonds fairly? If only two people are allowed on the big slide at once and there are three of us, how can we suck another person in to our game so no one goes alone?

self belief
My ideas are good ones. I will try them out. Others might like them and join in, or they might not. I’m having fun. I can try this new idea and see what happens. I’m awesome. And if I need help, I know I can ask without getting laughed at or ridiculed.

basic tasks
Can I get these waterproof trousers off alone? If I cry will someone help me? Is it possible to actually do this thing? (Yes!)

freedom
I can choose to play alone, with one other child, with lots of my friends, with the grown ups. This can vary throughout the day, depending on my mood. I can choose what I want to do and who I want to do it with.

friendship
My friends are all different ages. They all have unique quirks, and my relationship with each of them is different. Some are grown ups, and I get frustrated when they want to talk to each other (!), but this is part of learning to respect other people’s friendships, as well.

generosity
I worked on colouring this picture for a half hour, and I made it for you. (I, Alison, was given an amazing picture by a child, and it will be going up in our kitchen! Our whole house is full of blue tacked pictures and projects stuck to the wall and hanging from the ceiling, and each one is valued. They are even more special when given in friendship!)

…..

I could go on and on. Literally probably for the next hour. Playing, and the use of imagination and conversation, encompasses so many things without even trying. And it stitches them all together so effortlessly and with such joy. It is impossible to be engaged in play without learning, often on a very deep level.

Play is a miracle.

What friendship looks like to us.

It’s not notes passed between seats, or allocated bits of time to play. Nor is it seeing our best friends (or worst enemies!) every day.

Friendship is running wild, wooden swords clutched in the hands of every child. It’s being half naked at the zoo, splashing in the stream or chasing pigeons. Friendship is bouncing on beds, and rolling down hills, and building towers out of rocks in a shallow river.

It’s holding hands and spinning in a group circle in a (decidedly not very hot) hot tub, to see if we can make the water current strong enough to keep whirling us when we lift our feet up.

It’s helping each other down when someone is stuck at the top of a five story soft play and is weeping because she can’t get down. It’s eating biscuits in the rain, in the garden of your pottery class. It’s running in circles at gymnastics, laughing and making everyone else laugh, too.

Friendship is crawling under the hole in that one fence. It’s being able to be naked, or wear your pajamas, or dress up in any variety of costume and have your friends not bat an eye. It can be sitting next to each other on the couch, trying to beat a tricky Angry Birds level.

It is increasingly wild roughhousing, or being pirates on the top bunk of someone’s bed, or poking fungus with a stick. Entering pumpkin carving competitions and painting faces. Holding hands at the farm and stomping in mud.

We dance at the front of churches holding free concerts (even when our mama feels uncomfortable and a mean old man grumps at us), we hide in bedrooms and stage huge wars, we watch favourite cartoons together.

Friendship is your friend giving up her pushchair to allow you to be pushed when you’ve just broken your collarbone. It’s someone coming over to check you are okay when they see you crying. It is holding hands and spinning, it is chasing, it is watching dance recitals given to an audience of four.

It’s hunting for Gromits, looking at fake brains, playing in tubes of starlight, dressing up as animals. Sending each other texts when the only thing we can halfway reliably write is our name. Emailing each other pictures we think the other people might like.

It’s climbing up the world’s longest slide. Sharing scooters. Eating popsicles in the garden, sun beaming down in the instant before you decide to jump in the paddling pool. It’s trying new things, and going back to old things, and doing it together.

But the key is doing it when we want to. Seeing our friends when we all want to and have the time, doing things we enjoy and people have chosen to do. Spending hours, and sometimes whole days, with the people we want to be with.  Being friends with people because we like each other, and I’ll tell you: friendship is something we treasure.