Our daughter, former procrastinators, told me “When I have kids, forget toys. I’m just giving ‘em cardboard boxes.” She knows how much fun she had playing with those. The crowning occasion was when we rounded up refrigerator and washing machine boxes from stores to add to our leftover moving boxes. The kids had a grand time building tunnels, houses, a castle, a village.
We hurry to accomplish so much we don’t think we have the freedom to play. We put it off – and forget how to play. We become more stressed, less creative, even less productive.
I looked at Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism to review what he had to say about the importance of play. Sometimes we think we need justification to do the fun stuff. Hopefully, you can have a good time without factual back up, but if not, here are a few tidbits.
The Greek word “schole” means leisure. It’s related to how we learn. Now “school” has a different connotation. Keep this in mind as you read on.
McKeown defines play as anything we do simply for the joy of doing rather than as a means to an end. It’s essential.
He references Stuart Brown of The National Institute for Play who says, “Play has the power to significantly improve everything from personal health to relationships to education to one’s ability to innovate. It leads to adaptability and creativity. Nothing fires up the brain like play.”
Brown says play fuels exploration in three ways:
- It broadens options, helps us see possibilities and connections. It broadens perspective and challenges assumptions. Einstein stated that “the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.”
- Play is an antidote to stress. Stress reduces cognitive brain function, meaning we can’t think clearly. When McKeown’s children are stressed, he has them draw, and it melts away.
- Play has a positive effect on the brain’s executive function– planning, prioritizing, scheduling, anticipating, deciding, analyzing. (Need those?) It stimulates careful logical reasoning and carefree exploration.
McKeown points out major breakthroughs that occurred during play – Columbus’s realizing the world is round, Newton’s apple and gravity, Watson and Crick’s double helix of the DNA molecule, Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter, Einstein’s experiments. What might develop at your house?
He uses the phrase “the mind invited to play.” Let’s give ourselves, families, and colleagues the freedom to play. What a summer this could be….
Brown suggests we look to our past for memories of play. “What did you do as a child that excited you?” How can you do that again this summer?
I look back on wading in a creek, building a tree house, bicycling to the library, swimming or playing in the sprinkler, walking barefoot in the grass, reading in the shade, sitting on the porch and talking, lying on a blanket and looking for cloud pictures or stars, writing and putting on plays. I’m up for this.
How can you recreate a play memory you enjoyed?