Connecting at the Playground


Late last week, I took the girls to a playground at a park near our house. The evening weather was lovely and many families in our community found the pull of the playground to be irresistible.

Not long after we arrived, a woman brought two little girls who looked to be her granddaughters in through the playground gate. The woman settled in at a picnic table and continued on with a phone conversation via the ear piece nestled in her ear. This caused some manner of confusion for the little girls as they played nearby. From time to time, they would ask one another, “What? What did she say? Oh, she’s still on the phone. Okay.”

Not only have I observed this situation at nearly every play space (both indoor and outdoor) I’ve been to in the past four years, I’ve engaged in it myself. The playground offers a brief respite from the consuming work of raising children. On the comfy benches that encircle shopping mall playgrounds, moms and dads and grandparents and nannies read books and chat on the phone. Around the playscape at the park, the grown-ups pop open laptops or plug into their iPods.

I’ve done this very thing so many times myself. As a home manager, I’ve come to rely on the power of multitasking to get accomplished what needs to be done. We grown-ups, we are all very busy, and a trip to the playground usually means that somewhere, something has been left undone. If we can access those minutes on the sidelines of a playscape to return a few calls or get a few pages of the book club selection read, then the sacrifice of time doesn’t feel quite so burdensome.

And sometimes it isn’t about getting anything done at all. Sometimes it’s quite the opposite. After a long day of answering questions (“Mom, would an otter bite me?”) and cleaning marks off of the wall left behind by a marker unearthed from the mystery treasure trove only my toddler knows the whereabouts of, I just need a little time and space to zone out while my girls burn through some of the endless supply of energy
that propels them through each day.

At our last trip to the playground, as I observed the grandmother on the phone and the granddaughters at play, I began to think about all I miss out on when I put up invisible “do not disturb” signs around myself once we enter the playground gates:

Connecting with my children. I don’t know about your children, but my girls find it absolutely thrilling when I pull them into my lap so we can swing together or when I climb to the top of the ladder and go down the slide with them. Playing with a child at a playground delights the child because the adult has agreed to meet them in their world. It’s a beautiful validation for that little one that the experience of play is worth mommy mussing up her hair and her shoes a bit to share with her.

Connecting with other parents and caregivers. Parenting can be a lonely, isolating gig. I wonder how many new friendships I’ve missed out on because I was sending out very overt “closed” vibes. Sometimes a shared laugh over the antics of kids at play can be enough for two grown-ups to remember what we try to teach our children – that making friends isn’t really all that hard if you are willing to try.

Connecting with the other children at play.  The older of the two granddaughters at the playground the other night spotted me playing with my girls near the slide. She confided in me that they had just moved to our town a few days before and that the job their Daddy was supposed to get had suddenly fallen through. She had just finished first grade but the weight of the world was on her shoulders. I thought about how each of the children playing there that night had a story – some happy, and some not so happy. In a culture that makes it easy for adults to be increasingly disconnected from the children in their care, many children are craving the attention from someone who will listen for just a minute.

Please know that I am not insisting that every trip to the playground must be one of constant, alert, fully-present awareness. Sometimes we all need some space and some room to breathe. Sometimes we simply have to use those pockets of time that life hands us to take care of business.

But perhaps every other playground outing or so, you might turn off your phone, cram yourself into that swing, and see if you can’t swing high enough to kick the sky. You might smell like a puppy who has been rolling in the grass by the time you head home, but I bet you’ll have exercised a little, laughed a lot, and maybe even made a friend or two.

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  1. kristina says:

    loved this! we are in an apartment and visit the park often! and i have often given resistance to the game of hide and seek or chase…but i soon realize that these magic moments are fleeting…and i’ll get my rest later, after bedtime. they way their face lights up when i answer “yes” to the line “mama, will you play with me?” is enough to get me through the awkward stares from other parents. 🙂 thanks for the blog!

    • @kristina, oh, I know. The stares from other parents/care givers can be a little intimidating. Like you said, I just try to focus on the fun I’m having with my children and not worry about what a goofball I look like to others!

      Megan’s last blog post..Connecting at the Playground

  2. What a great reminder. Thank you for it!

  3. Oh, I really enjoyed this! Thanks so much for the lovely reminder! I try to focus on these special, fleeting moments on my blog – I tag them “Ordinary Extraordinary.”

    RLR’s last blog post..Works for Me Wednesday

  4. Mary Ann says:

    I loved this sooooo much! You are so insightful. I totally agree about the playing with the kids part. I try to remember that my kids will want me to play on the playground with them for a few short years and then those moments will be gone. Thanks for the reminder to enjoy it now!

    What I was going to touch on is the connecting with other moms part. You make a great point. I think so often I easily feel intimidated and embarrassed to strike up a conversation with another mom at the playground. I wish I didn’t feel that way but I think it is just part of my personality. So, this week at the playground I am going to try to step out of my shell and make small talk with others. Thanks!!!!

    • @Mary Ann, what sometimes helps me is to remember that most every parent finds a compliment about their child to be inviting. “What a friendly little one you have,” or “Wow! She’s really great with sharing” can go a long way in opening up conversation. The greatest thing about meeting people at the playground is that you instantly have something in common – kids! It’s a great conversation gateway.

      Megan’s last blog post..Connecting at the Playground

  5. You put this so well, Megan. I doubt I could have so gently reminded other parents to unplug!

    Aimee’s last blog post..Twitterpated over Roast Broccoli with Lemon

  6. This was great! I needed this reminder – I’ve been “plugged in” too much at home lately, too!!!

    Kristi_runwatch’s last blog post..The blessings of early bedtime!

  7. Dena Vieira says:

    I totally agree. What a great way to let your mind rest, too. Just let all of the other things on your list slip out of your mind for a while and totally engage with your children. It’s a wonderful connection for all of us.

  8. Would an otter bite me?! Love it! Very accustomed to those types of questions around here….

    This is an excellent point, although sometimes it is hard to do.

    Jamie’s last blog post..Steady Thought for the Day

  9. I have had these thoughts so many times. Either wishing the mom next to me would talk to me or hoping that there are kids nearby who will want to play with my kiddos.

    Thanks for the encouragement to stay alive and connected even when we may have the appealing opportunity to ‘get something done.’ It’s so important to remember that we are accomplishing a most important task when we just enjoy our children and play together.

    Nicole’s last blog post..Plug it In, Plug it In

  10. i’ve been blessed with a few months of unemployment before i begin a summer nanny job. i’ve taken this time off very seriously. trips to the park where i do cram myself in the swing. my son and i lay on the grass under the tree and anticipate what it will look like when the leaves are in full bloom. thanks for your thoughtful post!

  11. Such good truth here. I used the excuse that I had on the wrong shoes for the sand or gravel , and now they’ve gone and replace many of them with that black foam!

    deb’s last blog post..RUSH

  12. Great post. I never talk on the phone or use my laptop at the park (mostly because I live in a very rural, mountainy area where such devices are often useless because of lack of connectivity). I have only once tried to read at the playspace of a Chick-Fil-A and my two-year-old put an end to that by taking the book and scrambling up into the tunnel with it like a squirrel.

    I don’t, however, so a while lot of playing “with” the children at the park. Mostly because I play with them so much at home that the park serves as kind of my down time–or my time to connect with other moms, something I desperately need (living as I do in the aforementioned rural area).

    But you’re right that my kids often want me to play with them and these times when they do is fleeting. My five-year-old already doesn’t need me to puch her a hundred thousand times on the swing like my two-year-old, but she doesn still want me to pretend I’m a mama fruit bat and come find her (my baby fruit bat) hanging upside down under the slide. It won’t be long before she doesn’t even want to do that with me. And then the two-year-old will be sixteen and there will be no more park dates….

    wesleyjeanne’s last blog post..Home for the summer

  13. Sorry for the typos, above. Of course I mean “I don’t do a whole lot of” and “push her in the swing”…gotta do better at rereading what I write before hitting that submit button.

    wesleyjeanne’s last blog post..Home for the summer

  14. I always treasure my moments with my daughter when we are on the playground. I also take the opportunity to observe how she is when she plays with other kids. It’s my way of gauging how much I’ve taught and haven’t taught her–like sharing, waiting for her turn, etc.

    I also proved that playground time gives my daughter a lot of experiences as she is not afraid to mingle with other people unlike some of her cousins who were confined on their homes most of the time.

    ED Blogger’s last blog post..Children’s Day in China today