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—Enjoyable Activity

Play is fun and instructive.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Skipping, jumping, dancing, singing, fiddling, exploring, imagining, pretending, fantasizing, joking, doodling, visiting, and just goofing off. This is fun, this is play, this is OK.

Objectives[edit | edit source]

The objectives of this course are to help students:

  • Better understand the nature of play,
  • Understand the purpose of play,
  • Understand the benefits of play,
  • Understand the boundaries of play,
  • Enjoy playing, and
  • Use play to solve problems.

This course is part of the Applied Wisdom curriculum.

This course draws heavily on the materials published previously. We are grateful the author has placed that article into the public domain.

If you wish to contact the instructor, please click here to send me an email or leave a comment or question on the discussion page.

Characterizing Play[edit | edit source]

For the purposes of this course, we describe play as:

  • Pleasure without apparent purpose
  • Activity for amusement or recreation

More formal definitions are available.

Related Terms[edit | edit source]

Synonyms for play include caper, dalliance, delight, diversion, foolery, frolic, fun, gambol, game, gaming, happiness, humor, jest, joking, lark, match, pastime, pleasure, prank, recreation, relaxation, romp, sport, sportiveness, and teasing. As we use it here it does not include any activities or behaviors that harm or exploit anyone.

Benefits[edit | edit source]

Although it appears purposeless, play has important long-term benefits. Play promotes brain development, creative thinking, and problem solving. Play is an important catalyst for learning; it prepares us to deal effectively with new or unexpected situations. Experimenting with socialization as we play teaches us the rules and limits of acceptable and unacceptable social behavior through a wide variety of experiences in a relatively safe environment. Play increases emotional competence; it allows us to simulate a broad range of new experiences easily and safely as we learn from them quickly. Play helps us learn how the world works and how we can interact with it as we test the system in a variety of ways. Through play we learn the difference between acceptable and unacceptable risk taking. The rapid trial and error of play increases our creativity and innovation.

Learning through play has been long recognized as a critical aspect of childhood and child development.

Play can suspend or displace predatory behavior and overcome even a substantial differential in power. Signals of playful intent are widely recognized. Stuart Brown states that the basis of human trust is established through play signals.[1]

Although often misattributed to Plato, the observation “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play that in a year of conversation” remains insightful.

Play is:[edit | edit source]

  • done for its own sake; it has no apparent purpose or goal.
  • voluntary; you choose to play simply because you want to. We play spontaneously.
  • inherently attractive; play is its own reward, you are intrinsically motivated to play simply because it is fun, exciting, and not boring.
  • mentally engaging; attention is totally focused on the play activity. This has two rather pleasant consequences. You become unaware of time passing; you are set free from time and enjoy the experience of flow. Also, you are not self-conscious; you become unaware of yourself and are free from any pretenses.
  • spontaneous and improvisational; no preparation or planning is needed. Chance ideas, objects, or events are readily incorporated. Play is exploration and discovery.
  • alluring and seductive; it is something we want to continue doing.

Play often incorporates anticipation, curiosity, surprise, pleasure, and a new understanding that can lead to a new strength and a new level of play.

Play is OK[edit | edit source]

Play can provide many benefits, even within our work lives. For example, play:

  • provides a sense of competence, connection, and purpose that increases our involvement, commitment to, and enjoyment of our work. Incorporating a sense of play into our work provides intrinsic motivation for the work.
  • increases our creativity as we play with crazy new ideas, follow hunches, and indulge fantasies,
  • increases skills mastery through experimentation, exploration, serendipity, involvement, attention, persistence, and practice.
  • is important for strengthening our personal relationships and sustaining emotional intimacy.

Allow yourself the pure joy of play without feeling frivolous, embarrassed, or superficial. Integrate play into work so that you enjoy your work and increase your overall effectiveness.

The Boundaries of Play[edit | edit source]

If we are careless or cruel play can sometimes degenerate into destructive activities:

  • if the allure of play, video games, or gambling for example becomes obsessive or addictive it is no longer play.
  • If the activity becomes sadistic or cruel, it is not play.
  • If someone is domineering, aggressive, or violent they are not playing.

People sincerely care about the others they are playing with. Not all purposeless activities are play. Play is not:

  • Harmful to anyone or anything,
  • Avoiding, neglecting, or escaping your responsibilities,
  • Taken so seriously that the fun disappears,
  • A substitute for facing the demands of the real world.

Play is fun for all. If you are fearful, anxious, hurt, distrustful, abusive, or distressed, you are not playing.

Many possibilities[edit | edit source]

Play can take many forms, such as improvisation or pretense, interactive, performance, mimicry, games, sports, and thrill-seeking.

Here are some possibilities:

Assignment[edit | edit source]

Find ways to solve problems by playing. For example:

  • If you are stressed, find a playful way to relieve your stress.
  • If you are at an impasse while working to solve a problem, find a playful way to introduce new ideas, chaos, new perspectives, or new people.
  • If you are seeking new ideas, find playful ways to unleash your imagination.
  • If you are learning some new skill, find playful ways to practice elements of that skill.
  • If you are enduring drudgery, find playful ways to break up the monotony, overcome boredom, and become reinvigorated.
  • If you are trapped in conflict, find some playful approach to transcending conflict.
  • Find playful ways to strengthen relationships.

Recommended Reading[edit | edit source]

Students wanting to learn more about playing may be interested in reading the following books:

  • Brown, Stuart; Vaughan, Christopher (February 11, 2009). Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. pp. 252. 
  • Iggulden, Conn; Iggulden, Hal (April 24, 2012). The Dangerous Book for Boys. William Morrow. pp. 288. ISBN 978-0062208972. 
  • Robinson, Ken; Aronica, Lou (December 1, 2008). The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. Penguin Books. pp. 304. 
  • Kashdan, Todd B. (April 10, 2009). Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. HarperCollins. pp. 355. 
  • Nguyen, C. Thi (April 23, 2020). Games: Agency As Art. Oxford University Press. pp. 256. ISBN 978-0190052089. 
  • Ridley, Matt (May 19, 2020). How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes in Freedom. Harper. pp. 416. ISBN 978-0062916594. 
  • Why play is vital—no matter your age, May 2008 TED talk by Stuart Brown.
  • Five dangerous things for kids, March 2007 TED talk by Gever Tulley

I have not yet read the following books, but they seem interesting and relevant. They are listed here to invite further research.

  • Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, by Stephen Nachmanovitch
  • The Playful Mind: How to Restore the Happiness We Experienced as Children, by Paul Daniel

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Brown, Stuart; Vaughan, Christopher (February 11, 2009). Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. pp. 252.