Why Adults Need to Play: The Play Challenge

It’s Sunday afternoon. You’re 7, 11, pick an age. Your parents are asleep and you can’t go anywhere.

What would you do?

Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.

Abraham Maslow
American psychologist

When my children were little and would come to me and say, “I’m bored,” I’d tell them, “Good, you’ll find your true self on the other side.” I had to resist giving them suggestions, telling them to clean their room or call a friend. I knew that they, like me, needed to fall in–and through–their boredom. We have to putz around and go through our usual excuses to get past all that and find what’s on the other side.

Why do we need to play? Because it’s healing. It’s like re calibrating your brain, your soul and your body.We need to play in order to rest, in order to let go, in order to process. We need to play like we need to breathe. It feels good. It fills us with more than oxygen. It fills us with hope. Kids play even they’re sad, even at funerals or when they’re sick. They fall into play and it takes them beyond their sorrow and beyond their pain.

How you play says a lot about who you are, where you grew up, if you had siblings or friends nearby or if you were more solitary in how you played. Play holds more nuggets are to who you are, what drives you, intrigues you, allows you to fall deep into your easy and true self than all your secrets do.

Life coach Martha Beck is on a new mission–to remind people to play. She’s on a month of what she calls, “radical fun.”

“Just look back on your childhood and find what you did when no one was forcing you. Did you climb trees? Did you play computer games? Did you build forts? …”

There are clues and keys in what you did on those Sunday afternoons. The building blocks of who you are were already peeking through–director, engineer, writer, nurse or artist…all have their roots in the games and make believe of our childhood.

Here’s my list of what I loved to do as a child:

  • Climb my dogwood tree and see the world from that high perch
  • Pretend–I was a fairy, a fighter, a teacher, a trapeze artist.
  • Draw, paint, color–lots and lots of coloring.
  • Making up stories, creating my own books.
  • Swinging, climbing, riding my bike for hours (oh the freedom and wind in my hair) while pretending–already multitasking!
  • Singing, “performing”
  •  Hiding in the garden, under the hydrangea and azalea bushes and using sticks, nuts and flowers as my props

And here I am…writing, painting, performing, still riding my bike and gardening. We are who we have always been.

So here’s my proposition:

Come play with me.

Play every day.

Ask yourself, what would be fun today?

Play hopscotch on your driveway.

Sing in your car.

Buy some bubblegum and blow giant bubbles.

Get some molding clay and make tiny people and animals. Smush them all together and start again. Play isn’t about finishing. Play isn’t about perfection.

Get some crayons and drawing paper, doodle, color, repeat.

Jump on a bike and do some figure 8’s.

Break into spontaneous play.

That’s my challenge, to play every day.

I don’t want to make play yet another project, but to have that thought of play, of fun, of exploring whatever is at hand, whatever my mind and heart leaps to next close enough to reach out and grab it.

Play isn’t hard. Not adult hard, but play is serious. Kids wear themselves out playing. They come in dirty, exhausted, and exhilarated. Didn’t you hate it when your parents interrupted your play with something as mundane as eating???  When is the last time you were so engaged, so enamored with what you were doing that you had no interest in eating? Not many adults can remember that. Eating as become an obsession in part because we’ve forgotten the power of play.

It is a happy talent to know how to play.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
American writer

I hope you’ll write to me, share what you did as a kid, share your moments of play.



The importance of play: TED talk


Why do we play?





Filed under art, creativity, happiness, Uncategorized, writing

3 responses to “Why Adults Need to Play: The Play Challenge

  1. another beautifully written, inspired and inspiring blog Carol! thank you! a friend of mine and fellow early childhood educator, talks about her constant thrifting and scavenging for cool, unusual, found, recycled, and repurposed materials for learning as discovery as her “play!” i have since adopted that line (with permission.) i play because i am. i am because i play. i try to think and live playfully, to play with mind, body and soul. and to work the same way. as a child i loved to: (1) nap, read, play with my younger sister, cuddle with my dog Teddy under my beloved willow tree; (2.) build forts, huts and dens in the woods or by the side of the ban with my sister; (3.) have sleepovers with my Italian cousins (i grew up in Italy) who were usually sent to stay with us because their parents thought they needed an “attitude adjustment” from my American mother, but really just needed to play! We put on elaborate plays for my parents, ran around in the hay fields, and tried to make it through the night in a pup tent; (4.) make perfumes and potions out of natural materials harvested from our property (perhaps i should not mention my sister’s and mine tween attempt to dry and smoke what we thought was surely ‘weed’ being grown by one of our neighbors!); (5.) set up farmers’ markets and grocery stores and play restaurant with my little sister – our multi-colored gravel courtyard provided ample diversion. red rocks were meat, yellow ones were cheese and white ones were eggs. add in some fallen fruit and picked veggies and we were in business! (6.) adopt lost turtles and hedgehogs as pets and chase wild rabbits; (7.) throw rotten persimmons at the side of the barn, when my mother wasn’t watching (shhh! don’t tell!) (8.) explore the woods with my spinster neighbor, my sister, my dad and our faithful dog; (9.) play house and school with my childhood friends and neighbors – Ornella, Monica, Laura, Barbara and Sara – and my best friend from elementary school Aurora, and our fabulous housekeeper’s daughter Michela; (10.) mostly i just loved being a KID!

  2. Barb Kobe posted this link, and like all she does to inspire me, this is great! I live a very playful life, except that my play has become my work, so I have to work extra hard at remembering to just play. It’s a balance thing.

    As a child, I loved to read books that took me to other places, and then fill my play with similar adventures. I could turn the pic-nic table into a pirate ship, the wood truck, parked in the side yard amongst the low-hanging lilacs, into Robin Hood’s hangout (and yes, a girl could too be Robin, and I had the broom-staff to prove it, taking on the neighbor boy who challenged this!). My best friend Teri totally got the play hard then collapse and read, rhythm. My other best friend, Kelly, didn’t get the quiet alone part, and told me so. LOUDLY.

    I traveled by bicycle, roller skates, or on foot, to ballet class and baseball practice. I walked to the library, because I couldn’t carry so many books on my bike or while skating, of course. I climbed the fir tree in front of the house, and the rock face of the hill a few blocks from home, then practiced my baton twirling, or dance steps for the next show.

    Underlying it all was constant crafting, sewing, building, and making of whatever props all these adventures required. Play prepared me for the life I lead now, creating custom environments for paint clients, and publishing a bookazine that I design and do much of the writing for. It’s all play, and yet, I do have to step away and do the kind of play that has no end product, nobody else to please. Otherwise, the balance is lost.

  3. You may enjoy reading the D.W. Winnicott’s classic, “Playing and Reality,” if you have not already 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s