The seriousness of a child

Drew at plan in San Diego, California, in the spring of 1991.

Drew at play in San Diego, California, in the spring of 1991.

“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”

There’s a lot of talk about how childhood is magical and carefree, and I agree that it was (or is) a wondrous time for many of us.  Yet even with the most advantageous childhood, I think the first decade of life is also quite difficult.  As adults we may forget the utter powerlessness we often felt at having so many aspects of our lives decided without our input.

In particular, I can remember feeling frustrated that activities meaningful to me were often insignificant to grownups.  To a child, “fun” and “serious” are not mutually exclusive, but sometimes we forget that as we grow older. As a result, we may disregard the need to set aside unscheduled time to spend in preferred activities, not just for our children, but for ourselves.

It’s crucial, of course, to learn the inevitable lessons that come with maturity (how many of us were justifiably told “It’s only a GAME!” when we were in tears over losing at board games or ball games?) but sometimes we learn unintended parallel lessons that don’t necessarily serve us as adults.  Focused on productivity and controlled by clocks, we often multi-task ourselves in pursuit of the urgent or “important” to the point that we lose sight of more essential goals.

The state of optimal awareness that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and other psychologists have described as “flow” seems much more apparent in a young person absorbed in building with Legos or shooting baskets than it does in a harassed, hurried adult rushing from one obligation to another.  Not that we always have a choice about that.  But it’s worth consideration, if only to prompt us to re-think our schedules now and then, and assign a higher priority to those interests that captivate our minds in a way that all children seem able to understand.

What did you most enjoy doing in childhood?  What is fun for you?  I hope you will find some time, today or soon, to re-capture the alert focus of a child at serious play.

One year ago today

New possibilities

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. So interesting, Julia! I am learning to do “flip turns” or “tumble turns” and it is a lot of sometimes gratifying work. It also requires enough attention to the task at hand that I have no energy left over for worrying or daydreaming. I’m very, very absorbed in that activity.

    • Yes, I’d bet that it’s very risky NOT to pay total attention to that activity!!

      • There’s so much to remember to DO during a flip-turn! Breathe just before, orient relative to the pool features, keep track of which way is “up,” blow out through your nose (and blow harder, when your nose is upside-down), hold your feet together as you flip your feet over your head, place your feet on the wall on the mark (landing with your knees bent and hands together pointed in the direction you hope to go), push off straight nearly parallel to the water surface, dolphin kick toward the surface, stroke with one hand, and finally stroke with the other and take a breath. Whew! There’s a good YouTube by Stephanie Rice here:

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