The Oxford Dictionaries define play as “activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than serious or practical purpose.”  Dr. Scott Eberle, an editor of the American Journal of Play, says play brings us “surprise, pleasure, understanding . . . and strength of mind, body, and spirit.”  What I’ve gleaned from different definitions is, unlike other activities, the only requirement for play is a focus on pleasure and process versus goals and accomplishments.  Play is purposefully purposeless.

Study after study shows the critical role of play in children’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development and wellbeing.  Most of us show our support of children’s play by equipping kids with lots of toys, ensuring their free time, taking trips to parks and playgrounds, and visiting discovery museums.   But most of us don’t put the same effort into our own playtime, despite research finding play fosters adult wellbeing, resiliency, effective communication, and empathy. 

If you have or work with kids and you like to play in the ways they do, you’re in good shape.  You can strengthen your relationship with the children as you strengthen yourself.  If you aren’t with children regularly or their play isn’t for you, find other ways to play.  Maybe your play is in sports or arts and crafts or gardening.  Maybe you need to revisit the amusements your 10- or 11-year-old self enjoyed.  Maybe you need to audition new activities and see what feels good, refreshing, and just for you. 

I’m working on play.  Somewhere along the way, I forgot how and what I liked to play.  I love to watch my kids play, but their play just isn’t mine.  The good news is finding out how and what I like to play involves lots of playing.  I’ll let you know when something sticks.  In the meanwhile, join me?

Resources & References

Whitney Cain