In Search of Dragon Lairs: The Value of Play in the Field
This week in the field, I instigated an impromptu game of "the ground is lava" while exploring some canyons on a day hike. The game quickly gained layers of complexity, until it was replete with dragons, shimmering pits of blue and green destruction, regeneration as giant birds, and a push for distant castles. This lasted for a good 40 minutes, with enthusiastic engagement from the whole pack of teenage boys. When we finally made our way out of those treacherous, lava filled canyons, we immediately picked up our wands and headed to Hogwarts for lunch and herbology lessons, shouting incantations in contrived British accents as we went.
Sometimes I forget why I love my job. And sometimes I remember. There is something so beautiful in the simplicity of times like this: using our imaginations, engaging in childlike play. These students are boys who have attempted suicides, engaged in risky drug deals, destroyed property in outbursts of rage and ran away from homes filled with conflict and confusion, but in this experience of being absorbed in play, those selves were for the moment cast aside, replaced by an atmosphere of exuberant, carefree innocence. This sense of innocence, while perhaps always present within the core of our innermost selves, can be easy to discount when working with adolescents who have seen and done and felt so much. With all they've been through, who would blame them for feeling too old to play? Yet there we were, shouting spells at the bright, clear desert sky from the spiraling peaks of Mordor, letting go of our more serious selves to experience some pure silliness with no real purpose besides fun.
In order to create a genuine experience for others, as staff strive to do every day in the field, we must ourselves be fully invested in what we are doing. I, too, gain from these lighthearted antics as I absorb my imagination in spotting deadly lava flows and shouting urgent warnings to those who would brave traversing them in search of dragon lairs. It doesn't pay to be serious all the time, especially in the field, where the weight of emotions on our hearts can at times feel heavier than a fully loaded backpack and we may forget what it is like to be unburdened. Perhaps we would all benefit from finding ways to reconnect with our sense of innocence.
Another addition to the proverbial bag of staff tricks. I learn something new every week. I am grateful to the boys of G6 for providing me with the opportunity to explore the possibilities of play!