Cubs face off, by john storr
Now, let me emphasize that by "play" I don't mean playing organized sports, or taking part in a scout troop, or going to summer language camp, or rocket camp, or a Suzuki violin intensive. I mean spontaneous, creative, unstructured, unencumbered-by-expectations play. I was reminded of the difference after my daughter's plea to play. See I had bought her a couple of "ballerina Barbies." They were inexpensive, yet I felt the need to justify the purchases by saying to her (and myself) "you aren't going to be interested in Barbie dolls for too much longer, so sure, let's get them." When she asked me to play with her, what she wanted was for me to watch her perform a ballet with her various ballerina Barbies, including the new ones. I am ashamed to admit, the prospect didn't thrill me, but I also realized that I was being unreasonable if I said no to her request.
After I acquiesed, my daughter proceeded to "build" a stage on the dining room table. Cleverly using my centerpiece and various odds and ends from her play room, she created costumes for her dolls and three set changes. With the "classical ballet" station on Pandora playing in the background, she spontaneously performed "The Rose Princess" ballet. I was surprised and delighted by her enterprising instincts. She managed to convey a storyline through various scenes, was extremely dexterous in having her dolls "dance" and even managed to hold her audience's interest (the impatient ME). Most engaging was watching the look of rapt concentration and exultation on her face. In a world where young people are too often exposed to overtly sexual messages, are inundated with social media, and saddled with the need to use their time for activities to "get ahead" (too many camps and enrichment opportunities), casual play--interest in things like dollies at age twelve--can fall away or be perceived as ridiculous. Yet through watching her play, I saw my daughter's best qualities of innocence, resourcefulness and creativity come out. She had me thinking about how I would play similar sorts of games with my dolls (but I never ever had an audience). She reminded me of how much fun it is to invent, make do, re-purpose toys and items from the house and to use your imagination. So many toys today are crafted to be all-inclusive and prescriptive (think Lego building sets). So much of our adult lives is designed to be prescriptive and pre-fabricated: our meals, our outfits, our desires and goals, our personal and professional benchmarks.
So how do we loosen up, lighten up, become more playful? Some suggestions:
- Turn off the television and go outside to throw a frisbee, play catch, play informal badminton or volleyball. No scores, no "working on improving the accuracy of your throwing"--just enjoy the leisurely pace, the movement, the laughter and the talk that will ensue.
- Invite others to play. Instead of scheduled playdates, how about an informal game of foursquare in the driveway with whoever happens to be around/available?
- Bring back board games and card games!
- Do a jigsaw puzzle, put on some fun music in the background, make some tea or hot chocolate and go to it!
- Charades. No equipment required.
- For adults: Trivia nights at pubs.
- Also for adults: Don't forget bedroom play. Doesn't have to be elaborate, but bring back some lightheartedness. Laugh at yourselves and have fun.
For those interested in learning more about the research and history of play, I'd recommend Diane Ackerman's Deep Play and David Elkind's The Power of Play. I'm also including a link to an article/exhibit devoted to deep play:
Most importantly, just do it. Make play--the removal of objectives and the sheer freedom to exult in whatever you are doing--an essential part of your life.
Playfully and artfully yours, --Lisabeth