Stuart Brown’s Play (aka why adults should let children draw on walls and join them)

Good Thursday my readers! I hope your week has treated you well. As you know from my last blog post on Anne of Green Gables, today’s post is on Stuart Brown’s book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Or Play, for short.

In this day and age of technology, urgency, and concise work, play has taken a back seat. Even in the realm of children, as schools work to keep recess, art classes, and other non-STEM extracurriculars. Play is not considered academic, quick, nor concise. As a matter of fact, it’s considered frivolous; a waste of valuable time. Which is why, as we get older, play receives the Childish stamp. Play was something we did when we didn’t have to work or go to school. But now, since we are working or going to school, play is something that would be better replaced with something “productive.” Sleepless nights and busy schedules have become a competition for whose schedule is the hardest. And this form of suffering has become glorified, because if a person isn’t suffering, they aren’t working hard enough. As social creatures, we all want to feel like we’re doing our part, so we work harder and forsake play.

In Stuart Brown’s book, while he talks about play from the height of children, he also grows it up to give us adult examples of how and why play is still important throughout our lives.

Stuart Brown goes from the animal kingdom –did you know animals who don’t play as adolescents often can’t distinguish between friend or foe?– to the human kingdom explaining how play helps solve problems through creativity, exercises fine and gross motor skills, and hones social connectedness.

So, if it does these great things for children, why do we need to keep play as adults? Well, play helps us humans form strong relationships. When we connect with someone on something that is important to us, i.e. reading, we feel closer to that person. And yes, reading is play. So is crocheting, playing video games, hiking, cycling, jewelry-making– any activity you enjoy, for yourself and no other reason, is play. Let’s go back to this reading example, shall we? Engaging in play with other humans allows us to feel closer. Isn’t one of the prominent things in searching for a significant other, finding someone who has similar interests as you? Say one of your play activities is reading and you find someone who also enjoys reading. BAM! You have something to talk about: books. Maybe you’re looking for a book club and they’re in one, or they’re looking for a blog to read and you write one (*ahem ahem ahem*) you’re now engaged in a mutual interest, or, play for short.

So here you are, an adult, and you’re playing. Great! You’re now spending one hour before bed reading. Or two hours on the weekend hiking, awesome! But you still have that business part in your brain, maybe it’s left over from school, telling you how to better spend your time. That is if you’ve even decided to start doing something fun for yourself because you can. Maybe you haven’t. That’s cool, no hard feelings. I obviously haven’t talked up play well enough. My brain works on fun, whatever sounds fun to me, I’m up for it. But, maybe you don’t work on fun, maybe you work on production. Shawn Achor, speaker of this amazing TED Talk, tells us all about how happiness increases production. That’s right! The happier you are, the better work you produce, and the better work you produce, the more successful you are in the work place. See, being successful doesn’t breed happiness, happiness breeds success. You goose! You had it backwards! I’ve heard many an artist say they create better work when they are in a safe, secure, happy place in their lives, not when they’re brooding and life looks bleak. The same, as it turns out, goes for business people. Better work is created when you’re in a happier mood. You know what’ll get you in a happy mood? Playing. Watch cartoons! Play fetch with your dog! Did you used to play an instrument? Pick it up! Nothing is greater than the gift of creating music. If you used to play, you know I’m right.

Don’t know where to start? Go back to when you were a kid. What did you used to love doing? Dancing? Playing pretend? Painting? Making mud pies? Dude! Take a dance class or just dance in your underwear! Write a short story, a screen play, a tweet. Paint! Bake! (If you bake we’ll be real good friends. I’ll be your taste-tester and everything. I’m here for you.) ANOTHER great TED Talk is this one by my absolute favorite speaker, Sir Ken Robinson (that’s right ya’ll, he’s knighted). Don’t let the title fool you, what he’s going to talk about is the choreographer of Cats. Easy there tiger, it’s not what you think. He’s going to talk about who she was when she was a kid. A kid who couldn’t seem to sit still, back in an age when, “ADHD didn’t exist. People didn’t know you could have that,” as Sir Ken says. She went through a series of tests done by a doctor, who took her mom aside and switched the radio on before he left the room. What did he tell her mother? “There’s nothing wrong with your child. She’s a dancer. Enroll her in a dance school.” And her mother did. Because there was nothing wrong with not being able to sit still. There was nothing wrong with wanting to be a dancer. She was given permission as a child to be who she is. And who she is, is a dancer. She wasn’t told to “get a real job” or that she’d “starve” or maybe she was told those things, but it was clear those words didn’t come from her parents. Because they saw she had the potential to be a dancer, and she became one. That skillset, that need to move, to paint, to run, is still there. You just gotta let it breathe. Give those childlike parts of you a chance to resurface. They are important. They’re a part of who you are, how could they not be important? They lasted this long didn’t they? Give yourself a chance to play.

 

Thanks for reading,

-M

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