This summer, we went on a 5-day vacation to Legoland. I noticed that unlike the Happiest Place on Earth (Disneyland) Legoland has a lot of playgrounds for free play. Coming into the park, there’s the Lego Duplo playground, Heartland Stables, Pharaoh’s Revenge, Pirate Hideaways, and more. This doesn’t even count the play areas that are part of the lines for the rides. It’s pretty ingenious actually, the kids can go and build with Legos while their parents wait in line for the ride, and then when their turn comes up they can rejoin their parents and go on the ride. As a whole Legoland is much more play oriented than most other theme parks.
Why is that? Probably because Lego originated in Denmark, where there is a high cultural value placed on play. The word Lego actually comes from “leg godt” meaning “play well” in Danish. And this importance placed on play is probably just one of the many factors why Denmark also holds the distinction of being one of the Happiest Countries on Earth.
As an observer at Legoland, it was interesting to see how the exact opposite is taking place in American culture. While we sat back and took a break as our kids ran around together on one of the playgrounds, other parents were setting limits. “You can stay here for only five minutes and then we need to move on.” Another parent said, “We didn’t come all the way here for you to play on a playground!” I sadly watched as the kids’ eyes would light up when they saw the cool playground, then their faces fell as they were told that they couldn’t play.
As OTs, we know the importance of play. Or do we really? How often do we actually evaluate the play skills of our clients? Granted, it would probably be hard to get a play goal funded through insurance, but we can at least offer suggestions to parents. Think about those kids with CP who have motor difficulties that impede their play. Or the kids with autism that only do repetitive stereotyped play. Even in school-based therapy, I may not be able to evaluate play per se, but I can still look at participation during recess. So as an OT, how do you advocate for play, whether in your practice or in our society as a whole?