10 life lessons learned on the playground (& a giveaway!)

The following is a guest post written by Sarah Olmsted of Imagine Childhood.

I‘ve always thought children are better teachers than yoga instructors. Don’t get me wrong, I love yoga.  It’s something that makes a huge difference in the way I feel on a daily basis. It strengthens my mind, my body, and my spirit. It helps me shake off the worries and cares of my day.  It reminds me to breath deeply and intensionally.

But my yoga instructor still can’t hold a candle to a kid when it comes to teaching me how to be open, present and engaged in my life.  In my experience, children are the definitive authority in this arena.

So, on days when I’m feeling particularly stuck, I tend to gravitate more toward the sandbox than Savasana.

Here are ten life lessons I’ve learned on the playground.

  1. Everyone you meet is a potential friend (no matter how many legs they have)
  2. Spontaneity is a quick way to change up your perspective (especially when it involves climbing trees)
  3. Both caterpillars and butterflies are equally amazing
  4. Getting your hands dirty is a good thing
  5. Circling the same spot over and over can be enlightening
  6. Illogical processes can lead to wonderful discoveries
  7. Every path is worth investigating (even if it leads to nowhere)
  8. The reward of the slide is worth the effort of the climb
  9. Cloud watching is a form of meditation
  10. When all else fails, running through the grass will always make you feel better

Chasing the Magic of Childhood

“Something about the place is familiar, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. Off the bat, there aren’t any landmarks or striking features that jog your memory to a specific time or event, but still, it feels like you’ve been there before. The way the trees move when the wind goes through them, the smell of damp earth, the deer trail stretching up the hill—they all point to something you can’t quite reach.

With each step down the path, the colors get richer as the light becomes more and more filtered by the green canopy of aspen leaves above. Under your feet, leaves from seasons past crunch and crackle, and for just a moment, gravity feels different. As if somehow it’s pulling a little less. As if the space between your feet and the ground has widened by the width of a single hair.

With this new sense of gravity, your steps are quicker, more playful than the daily gait you’ve become accustomed to. Their rhythm is a syncopated cousin to the pace you know, to the tempo you’ve settled into after decades of traveling from place to place.

It’s almost as if your feet have a mind of their own, a memory that your brain can’t connect to. They lead you through the woods with a sense of purpose, a directive you can only hope to be clued in on at some point in the near future. Your hands pick up sticks and throw them in the air so your eyes can see them float through the branches, weightless, if only for a millisecond. Your arms pull your body up the trunk of a tree. Your lungs breathe in the scent of leaves and sap.

More and more, you realize you have been here before. Glimpses of faded memories float by your eyes like passing clouds, changing their form with the wind. At first it’s like an old movie, a story you learn as the scenes unfold. Then the characters slowly begin to come into focus—inch by inch, frame by frame.

In the foreground, there’s a small figure wearing a blue shirt and a pair of jeans. It’s running and laughing, building forts from fallen branches, lying in the grass and gazing at clouds. Turning your head, you see the same shapes in the sky. Looking down, you see the same blue shirt.

The faded memories have become focused on the world in front of you. On the grass where you’re sitting. On the landscape of childhood.”

~ From Imagine Childhood: Exploring the World Through Nature, Imagination, and Play

You have to go away to come back.  I’ve heard that phrase over and over again throughout my life but I don’t think I really felt the full truth of it until I began writing this book.  Until I began wandering through those woods again, until I began playing again.

This is a book of projects, but it’s also a book of experiences.  It’s as much about making and doing as it is about being, but mostly. . .

. . . it’s about living. . .

. . .  in the magic. . .

. . . of childhood.

It’s beautiful here, won’t you come out and play?

IMAGINE CHILDHOOD: Exploring the World Through Nature, Imagination, and Play-  25 Projects that Spark Curiosity and Adventure.

This book is a celebration of childhood through the crafts and activities that invite wonder and play. The twenty-five projects and activities in this book are meant to speak to the way children engage with the world.

These projects are not about what is produced in the end (although that part is fun too) but rather they are stepping-off points—activities that spark curiosity, an adventure, or an investigation.

They’re about the process of getting there. They’re about the conversations that happen while making things together. They’re about getting to know the world inch by inch. They’re about exploring imaginary universes and running through real forests. They’re about living in childhood . . . regardless of your actual age. They’re about being a kid.


Roost Books is generously offering THREE Simple Homeschool readers a copy of Imagine Childhood!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this post, answering this question: “What life lesson have you learned from watching your children play?

This giveaway has now ended.

If you’d like two additional ways to enter the giveaway, here’s how:

Additional Entries

1. Follow Imagine Childhood and Simple Homeschool on Pinterest. Then come back and leave an additional comment here, telling me you did so.

2. ‘Like’ Imagine Childhood and Simple Homeschool on Facebook. Then come back here again and leave a comment, telling me you did so.

This giveaway has now ended.


  1. I’ve learned that life flies by much too quickly, and I need to enjoy my kids at each and every stage of life.

  2. Jessica jones says:

    I am following you both on Pinterest! Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. Jessica jones says:

    I also liked you both on Facebook!

  4. Watching my boys play I have learned that forgiveness is easier than staying angry and is also more fun!
    Danielle Drown’s latest post: Goodbyes

  5. I’m following both on pinterest!

  6. And I like both on Facebook!
    Danielle Drown’s latest post: Goodbyes

  7. I have learned that “mean kids” are there from an early age, and as parents, we need to be advocates for the ones who get pushed aside.
    Jenna@CallHerHappy’s latest post: A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms {Review & Giveaway}

  8. One of the many life lessons I’ve learned from watching my child play is any space is interesting: the corner of a cell phone store, the alleyway of a inner city neighborhood, the shore of a pond, the base of a tree, the nook of a room.
    Claire’s latest post: Catalog Copy.

  9. I have learned to be free and to be authentically me. I watch my girls learn, grow and create through play. Pouring out all they have within without all the walls, fears and intimidation I do. They have taught me how to heal through play.
    I dont have facebook but follow on Pinterest!

  10. I’ve learned that life is too short to worry about the dishes!

  11. i follow you both on pinterest

  12. Jeri Thurber says:

    I have learned to see everything and appreciate how beautiful it all is.

  13. I’ve learned that they don’t need me to teach them everything or solve every problem but instead to get out of their way and let them discover their own games, discover their own (endless) curiosities, and let them solve their own problems.
    Glory’s latest post: What’s Off My Bookshelf?

  14. i follow you on facebook

  15. I have (re)learned that mother nature really has the best playground… regardless of age, and she inspires the most creativity with her simple playthings.
    Dawn Suzette’s latest post: Weekending

  16. i have learnd to be completely silly and laugh lots from playing with ky children. it is so freeing to let go of appearances and adult behavior and just embrace joy.

  17. i like simple homeschool on facebook too.

  18. Amanda Babcock says:

    Watching my children play, has been by far, the best way to figure out the individual ways that each child learns.

  19. Michelle Baesler says:

    My children teach me about time…do not rush and take time to enjoy this life!

  20. Amanda Babcock says:

    Following y’all on Pinterest!

  21. Amanda Babcock says:

    I also “like” you on facebook. Keep up the good work, ladies!

  22. I have learned that laughing out loud and crying out loud are both worth it.

  23. I’ve learned from my kids that nothing is what it “seems” – i.e. couch cushions are actually the building blocks of a castle or a mighty mountain. : )

  24. I “liked” both Imagine Childhood and Simple Homeschool on Facebook.

  25. There hasn’t been a lot of time in my home to allow me to read many blog posts lately. However, I read this one twice! How inspiring. I often feel so guilty for not being “present” with my children when I know they are growing up so fast. This post is just what I needed to get me to slow down and take notice. A perfect wake-up call! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! P.S. Your pinterest boards are wonderful sources of inspiration, too. I’m looking forward to seeing your updates!

  26. I follow Imagine Childhood and Simple Homeschool on Pinterest.

  27. Christina B. says:

    When watching my girls play together I have learned that great adventures can be had even in the smallest of backyards. That play is the “work” of children and they are practicing and working out so many things they see the adults around them do.

  28. I “like” you both on facebook

  29. Ooh, I’d love to read this!

    One I learned recently from my 14-month-old is that you don’t have to let anyone else tell you the right way to think. I look at a toy and see one “intended” use for it, she sees an endless list of things to explore. Love it.

  30. My kids have taught me to be present in the moment/environment which is something I am continually striving to achieve. How many times do our kids point out something that we as adults hear or see but quickly dismiss … the sound of a train in the distance, an ant crawling on an ant hill … I now try to see and hear and absorb/enjoy these simple things just like my kids do :)

  31. My kids have taught me that spontaneity is sometimes better than “the plan”.
    Teish’s latest post: Sir Cumference and the First Round Table

  32. I’m a pinterest follower as well :)

  33. That children are naturally curious and don’t need to be told how to play or explore or investigate!

  34. I’ve learned from my son that play is important….not only for him, but for me also. :)
    reb’s latest post: This Week’s Links.

  35. I’m following you both on Pinterest.
    reb’s latest post: This Week’s Links.

  36. I’m following you both on Facebook.

  37. I am following both now on pintrest! :)

  38. I have learned that I cannot force my son to play a certain way. I get so OCD at times with the way I think that things need to be done, that I think I can ruin the creativity that he has. So I have learned to relax and let him explore, learn and grow – and at times make mistakes so that he can learn from them.

  39. I liked both on facebook as well! :)

  40. I have learned the amazing scope of imagination nature allows for. My kids can spend HOURS pretend playing in the dirt, with leaves and sticks and grasses. And they are so refreshed and content afterward.
    Laura’s latest post: Day Twenty-Nine / Eat Your Vegetables!

  41. I follow both of you on Pinterest! :)

  42. I like both of you on Facebook!

  43. I ‘Like’ Imagine Childhood and Simple Homeschool on Facebook.

  44. I learned that time is not a limit when you use your imagination & creativity. My son can play for hrs in the wood, with just stick – pretend to be someone or something. I think as adults, we use technology too much to entertain us – while the nature, creativity and imagination is the best way to entertain us instead.

  45. I follow Imagine Childhood and Simple Homeschool on Pinterest.

  46. I’ve learned that persistence is the key to mastering any skill – even if you are just walking up and down a single step…

  47. Shelly Smith says:

    A life lesson I have learned from watching my boys play is… teamwork not only makes a task EASIER, it also makes it more enjoyable!

  48. Shelly Smith says:

    I follow you both on Pinterest!

  49. Shelly Smith says:

    I “like” you both on Facebook!

  50. My life lesson learned from our son: The most mundane tasks are so much more fun when you do them in the context of play. For example, fold laundry, place it into the bed of a toy truck, have a stuffed animal “drive” the laundry to the appropriate dresser, and repeat until the wash basket is emptied.