Published on: Thursday, September 1, 2016 Takoma Park Newsletter

A day of play

By Helen Lyons

On a Saturday later this month, when the heat has subsided and school routines are becoming solidified, people of all ages will have the chance to come together at Takoma Park Middle School and engage in something that’s so refreshingly simple, many will wonder why they don’t do it more often — play.

The 8th annual Play Day will be held rain or shine on Sept. 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and all are invited to come pick up a ball, jump a rope, swing a hula hoop, or even make a mud pie.

“The point is to come and play and try something new, or something you haven’t done in years, with someone of a different age,” said Pat Rumbaugh, the organizer of the free event, who has happily adopted the moniker “The Play Lady.”

A former physical education teacher, Rumbaugh founded the nonprofit Let’s Play America after noticing a decline in “fun, free playing not only for children, but for people of all ages.”

And so for the past seven years, residents of Takoma Park and their friends from neighboring towns have joined together to take a deliberate break from hectic, technology-driven, and often sedentary lives, if only for a day.

“It’s an opportunity to reclaim the meaning of the word game,” said Phil Shapiro, a self-described play advocate and early supporter of Play Day. “Children are used to the word game describing something you do with your thumbs and electronics, but a game is something you can invent.”

“Making it up,” or unstructured play, can come in the form of dress up clothes or a mountain of cardboard boxes that will be available for whatever diversion participants can come up with.

Shapiro sees Play Day as a reclamation of a critical but fading pastime: “Play brings physical and mental health benefits, and if we don’t organize for play, we’re going to lose it.

As the Play Lady herself put it, “We organize it, so people can come and play unorganized activities.”

Debby Huffman, the assistant director for Takoma Park’s Recreation Department, expects a crowd of hundreds to come together this year for soccer, basketball, hopscotch, mini-tennis, board games, dress-up clothes, singalongs and more.

“[Attendance] seems to grow every year,” Huffman said. “Play Day provides an opportunity for everyone to just slow down and take a minute to meet new people and connect with neighbors for some good old fashioned playing.” With everything from Zumba to the popular Touch-a-Truck, there are activities for people of all ages and levels of ability.

“It’s not just children,” the Play Lady said of the diverse crowd the event draws each year, which includes senior citizens. “It’s people of all ages playing. It’s just a fun atmosphere.”

But amidst all the fun and games, play advocate Phil Shapiro believes something tremendous is built each year at Play Day: not just mud pies, and box forts, and towers of blocks, but a sense of community. “If you can’t learn to play together,” Shapiro said, “you can’t learn to work together.”

This article appeared in the September 2016 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.