Local author gives real-life advice for playing at any age
Last updated 11/3/2021 at 10:04am
"Everyone is born with the ability to fully express themselves creatively," local author Stéphanie McGuirt said. "I don't think we choose to give it up in favor of 'growing up.' Instead, that's driven into us by external systems and beliefs. Prioritizing play and creativity is a form of self-expression and discovery, which makes it a nourishing activity for anyone of any age."
This concept of creativity motivates McGuirt both as a parent and a writer. A Fountain resident and a mother of two, she began writing the "Ready, Set, Play" column for the Fountain Valley News in May. The column extends ideas from her first book, "Play: Simple & Creative Activities to Inspire and Engage," released in December 2020. The book begins by suggesting that we all have a creative spirit that must be nourished, which we tend to ignore as we age.
Therefore, part of being a balanced person is finding spaces for that creativity, spaces which "nourish what's calling on you," as the introduction puts it. In this context, calling doesn't just mean finding work that excites us, but cultivating a particular worldview of work and play.
"Answering to a 'calling' extends beyond what we choose for work as an adult," McGuirt said. "Play and creativity can thrive anywhere... it's about our approach and how we see ourselves as part of the world. There should absolutely be an element of play and creativity in any line of work. That's a healthy thing. So whether or not we nurture these things is really up to us and not dependent on the career we choose."
The book helps readers nurture play and creativity by outlining many activities that parents can do with their children. These extend from crafts like making Christmas ornaments to cooking snacks to classic games like hopscotch and musical chairs. Some activities are more complicated than others, but McGuirt makes sure that each one is described in a simple, applicable way.
"I hope that readers will see that things are naturally easy and simple," she said. "One of the questions I often ask myself is, 'How can I make this easy?' What may be a complex thing doesn't have to be complicated. Once we peel back the layers and simplify, we create the freedom to play."
McGuirt says that she didn't have a detailed mission statement that guided which activities she included, but she had a broad idea that the book should "reflect the most common ways we play as a family and with friends."
"I homeschool my two kids, and have for the past nine years and counting," she said. "Through the experience, I've learned to embrace play as a daily habit, which is something I lost for a good chunk of my adulthood. With the book, I just wanted to inspire others to invite play into their daily routines, and see how simple it is to do that. Playing is a quick, easy way to feel amazing."
Some of the book's activities not only express creativity, but cultivate particular values – for example, creating a gratitude tree to hang on the wall with each leaf listing something to be grateful for.
"Creative activities connect us more deeply to ourselves and the world around us, so any way that we can do that has huge value for me," McGuirt said. "With activities like building a gratitude tree, it encourages us to slow down and enjoy what we have-to not seek more, but to simply be grateful for what we have right now. In a culture that promotes the opposite of that, I think it's essential to keep those values in the home."
At the same time, since "Play" is about parents and children nurturing creativity together, it goes beyond just teaching children positive values.
"I think it's important that, as adults, we remember that we can learn as much from our children as they can from us," she said. "So engaging in play together is a way for both kids and adults to create this space where the playing field is 'level,' so to speak. A space where we can learn more ways to self-express naturally-without following a rulebook. There's a lot to learn in that space, from each other and ourselves."
For adults, one of the most important lessons is maintaining a proper balance of work and play.
"Adults are great at getting lost in to-dos," she said. "Sometimes it seems that being an adult is just tackling one long, never-ending list of things to do. We tend to forget that we're in control of what we do (and don't), and of whether or not we're making time to express ourselves in ways that are nurturing instead of exhausting. What I've seen and experienced is that we can overwork ourselves, and not balance that with time to do other things just for fun. It's tricky for me because I love to work and I work hard. I push to get things done. Because I've experienced burnout from that, I know now that if I work hard, I have to play hard too. So if I put in extra time to meet a deadline, I'll make sure to get outside and play. This is where I find a fulfilling harmony for myself."
Even when she isn't maintaining that balance, McGuirt has found that parenting continually pushes her to learn new things.
"My children are the biggest and most positive influences in my life," she said. "They teach me to forgive quickly and move on to the next thing without dwelling in the past. They remind me that there's infinite love and freedom in my heart and I can tap into that resource any time I need. They do this just by being who they are and inviting me to do the same."
McGuirt is currently planning her second book, "Mothering in the Wild," and blogs regularly on her website (stephaniemcguirt.com). Her book "Play" can be purchased on her website, through Amazon and other online retailers, or directly from the Fountain Valley News office (120 E. Ohio Ave. in Fountain).
Meet the Author!
Stéphanie McGuirt's book will be featured during a holiday open house here at the News Office. The event will take place Friday, Nov. 19, from 5-7 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 20, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Newspaper staff and contributors will be on hand for a meet and greet. The event also will feature the artwork of "Wild Whisperings" wildlife photography by Karen AuBuchon Johnson. Join us to say hello or pick out some unique gift items for loved ones!