It would have been my Dad’s birthday tomorrow, so this got me thinking about Father’s Day earlier this year when my husband, two children and I took a trip to the beach. “It’s like being a child again” said a granddad to me. Three generations of a family (women and all) had gathered by an inland boating lake, with their model boats proudly lined up in a row. The men cradled, cleaned and caressed their boats, an ocean liner, tug boat, yacht and incongruous beast of a speedboat, before lining them up, side by side on the verdant grass, waiting for their turn on the water. The women had come prepared with chairs, flasks, sandwiches and lots of patience and good humour. Although they feigned boredom they were clearly almost as hooked as the men themselves, enjoying the playful camaraderie of the occasion.

It being nearly lunchtime and the car parked nearby with picnic lunch within, my children pleaded hunger, opting to eat there and then. Sat captivated on a grassy bank they watched excitedly as the spectacle unfolded. As each vessel was carefully lifted onto the lapping water the suspense (of whether it would sink) was palpable as each perhaps imagined himself the captain of a ship travelling to some distant shore. With focus interspersed with laughter and frivolity, the men proceeded to take it in turns ‘sailing’ their boats. It was in one such bout of laughter, creased over like a child with the ’full-bodied’ experience (thanks Julian Grenier), that the granddad explained to me with a big grin on his face how playing with toys made him feel.  You could see it in his eyes, glinting with playfulness. The huge flashy speedboat (one of his son’s) had just had to be rescued by a tug (another son’s) in a dramatic manoeuvre, which clearly had tickled the father as well as the heckling women onlookers. Meanwhile my five and eight year old (not to mention their Dad) sat watching mesmerised.  

As Janet Moyles brilliantly observes, even adults enjoy playing, from doodling to sailing grown-up toy boats.  Sat watching the adults and my children that day, it was difficult to tell the children and adults’ responses apart. It could so easily have been a game of conkers in the playground, the children carefully lining up their proud finds before making a selection and preparing for the ‘battle’.  Bruner held that play is all about the process. On that sunny day by the sea, the process of play was apparent, as was the satisfaction, excitement and allure.