Job shadowing a pediatric physical therapist has given me a new perspective on play. When children play, they are learning vital skills that will serve them later in life: motor control, strength, social skills, etc. Watching a child play, however, it’s easy to see that play takes a lot of work. Little brow furrowed, fingers pinching clumsily, every nerve tense, a child will try again and again to pick up a ball.
Today, I had the privilege of watching children persisting in spite of handicaps to succeed in the very serious work of their play. Their concentration and commitment surpassed what I’ve seen any adult use in their workday. The children used sign language to help them communicate in spite of speech delays and gurgled with glee when they succeeded in a task. One of the challenges of pediatric physical therapy seems to be that the experience needs to be fun, even if it’s hard work. And when they’re engaged, children become so absorbed in their task that they will continue to practice over and over.
I also am learning about the power of an audience. When a child has an adult encouraging him and cheering him on, the child tries harder and accomplishes so much more. At the sound of clapping, children light up. Their look of pride and joy makes me feel happy in a way that I don’t think I can find in quite the same way anywhere else. I want to try, just as an experiment, to approach something in my day with that same unabashed sense of glee.