The family of Matthew Greeley kayaks while on a recent vacation. Greeley maintains play is vital to both children and adults and forms precious family memories. Greeley family photo

The family of Matthew Greeley kayaks while on a recent vacation. Greeley maintains play is vital to both children and adults and forms precious family memories. Greeley family photo

By Matthew Greeley | Special Contributor

Yes, the list really does go on and on.

Play is vital to a healthy childhood, and I think it is also vital to a healthy adulthood. That leads me to think that play is absolutely vital, crucial even, to the well-being of our families. I have played and “seen play” in diverse environments, from the kindergarten classroom, to the fields playing football and baseball with friends, to Star Wars clubs and Ultimate Frisbee teams, to the humble communities of Peru where children work to survive the poverty but do so while playing, to family gatherings with younger cousins organizing games of SPUD, hide and seek, and Capture the Flag.

My children might tire of my reminiscing about epic Manhunt games and Dungeons & Dragons, but “play” gave me tools for life, got me outside, helped me learn to “see” and “hear” in new ways. And, my reminiscing is a door to my hopes for them as they grow. With one kid in second grade and the other in fifth, they are in the perfect stage of life for playing their hearts out.

My wife and I both work full time, but with all of the activities and stresses of our lives, we do what we can to put conscious effort into creating opportunities for play and “adventure” for our family, especially because it seems that times have changed and it seems less common for the children of the neighborhood to gather and make things happen on their own. Also, what better place to instill a sense of play than in the family? I think the kids also get something more from seeing me and my wife at play, not just the more common “at work.”

Carving out time in the evenings before bed to read books aloud together has been a gift for us. We have read some of the classics and are currently on book 6 of the Harry Potter series. The shared experience offers us another chance to sit together, to reflect on what we hear and even tie things into our own lives, but the greatest value for us as family is just to be together for fun; to enjoy one another’s company.

People often say that they see God most easily in nature. For me, it is even easier when I see my family enjoying nature. There is a small creek not far from our home named after an Indian tribe which we affectionately call, “The Wick.” The Wick is a small rambling creek, but to us it has become a destination for adventure, exploration and pure enjoyment.

In waters no more than 2 and ½ feet deep, our son swims, chasing the small fish. We look for animals and bring sandwiches from Wawa. We wade, search, and smile a lot. We discover and we relish what we find, a chance to recognize and celebrate what our children “see” and “hear.”

I miss the snow days of old in winter when a “snow day” meant just that. Now, we work from home and remain connected to our daily jobs… but, we do our best to chisel out time to get out in that beautiful snow. Whether sledding, making angels, looking for deer tracks or building forts, again the greatest value is in the time spent together simply enjoying one another’s company.

I believe that Jesus knew how important play was. After all, when his friends were being chastised for failing to follow the rules of the Sabbath in Matthew’s Gospel, his response was that we should celebrate being together while we have the time.

Card games, puzzles, maybe even the occasional MarioKart competition; time to smile with our family as family can take any shape. As I get older and more out of shape my possible activities might change, but they certainly do not go away. With the start of school and, hopefully, cooler weather, I plan to continue to consciously look for ways to laugh, smile, discover, explore, and so much more with our son and daughter. After all, play is also a great way to stay young!

Matthew Greeley is the associate director of the Diocese’s Office of Communications and Media.