Are you one of the 9 million + people who have shared one of the latest quirky wall posts doing the rounds of Facebook? I didn’t share it, but I must admit to thinking that the photos two parents took showing a new scene they set up each night to make their kids think their toy dinosaurs come to life at night were pretty awesome. From modest beginnings with the dinosaurs ripping into a packet of cereal they advanced to cracking eggs all over the kitchen floor and playing ‘Operation’. The parents’ justification was interesting though. They wrote that they did it because in the age of iPads they wanted to foster a sense of wonder, mystery, and imagination in their kids. Looking at the photos though I suspect there is also another reason they got into it and kept it going – because they really enjoyed being able to play – something grownups don’t get enough of.
Our Facebook feeds are full of them: Adults recreating childhood photos, doctors dancing, teachers and students doing Gangnam Style parodies and the various flash mobs that occur. Even celebrities join in – Brian Cranston and Colbert doing Daft Punk roller disco style comes to mind, as does Cranston’s alternate Breaking Bad ending. Companies play on it – creating giant piano keys to place on staircases. Heck even the very memorable viral video clip back from 2009 – Jill and Kevin’s wedding – was all about adding the fun back in to life: Adults who are allowing themselves to let loose, to have fun – to play.
We tend to look at play as something we gradually abandon as we become an adult. As a first step we lose interest in playing with our toys. Superhero figurines, lego, cars, dolls and teddies languish at the bottom of toy boxes. I’ve often lamented that this process seems to happen more quickly for girls. At high school boys still play handball, basketball and football at lunch. Girls tend to sit around and talk in groups, with not many teenagers necessarily conscious of the fact, or willing or able in their egocentric states, to break this gender stereotype. Yet play is an essential aspect of life. We recognise the importance of play in early childhood with many experts arguing that formal schooling is in fact pushed on children too early and that better results are achieved when the emphasis is on learning through play until kids are 7. Yet we see play as something grownups should have grown out of.
Sharing these playful posts on Facebook makes us smile. Some of us might be inspired enough to initiate our own playful activities but chances are most of us will probably just have a little chuckle, click ‘like’ or ‘share’ and carry on with the seriousness of life. But maybe we should give a little more thought to following in their footsteps and breaking out into play.
In his TED talk Stuart Brown argues that we’ve lost play from our culture. In the 15th Century it was a common occurrence for adults to engage in play – and not just competitive play in sport. Adults would engage in all sorts of play just as children do today – rough and tumble play, imaginative play, social play, playing with objects like balls and puzzles. Yet for adults today it seems that play has slowly disappeared from our culture. Some of us might participate in team sports still, occasionally we might play with our kids but that is often the limit. Indeed some adults feel that they don’t know how to play with their kids or don’t like to play with their kids. Part of this may stem from the fact that many of us don’t know how to play anymore ourselves.
Play is about letting go. In his TED Talk on creativity and play Tim Brown discusses the fact that when we become adults (and during adolescence) we become more conservative. We fear the judgement of our peers and become self editors of our behaviour. We lose the ability to let go and be happy and silly and crazy in the moment.
New research into play shows that play lights up the brain like nothing else. Play stimulates us and allows us to think creatively. Indeed Stuart Brown suggests that a state of play is the antithesis of a state of depression and that human beings are a unique species in that it seems we are actually designed to play throughout our lifetime. Indeed Brown argues that play may well fill a biological role in humans just like sleep and dreams do.
So next time, rather than clicking ‘like’ or ‘share’ how about thinking about how you can put a bit more play back in your own life? Play isn’t an immature action or an indulgent way to escape life. It is a way to more fully engage with life, and a great way to really connect with our kids and each other.
Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/duncan/79106711/sizes/o/with thanks to duncan.