“Play is the work of children,” Mr. Rogers said. And even though we may think we need less playtime as we get older, especially in lieu of work and productivity, we never actually outgrow the need and desire to get caught up in a playful experience. And we are always better on the other side of it.
The opposite of play is not in fact work, as you might have guessed, but it’s actually depression. Dr. Stuart Brown wrote about this in his book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. In his research, Brown has found that when we are denied play for long periods of time, our emotional well-being is compromised. We actually become incapable of experiencing sustained pleasure. In other words, when we stop letting ourselves play, we lose the ability to enjoy the best parts of life. In Dr. Brown’s words, “To miss out on play is to miss the harvest of a well-lived life.”
When you make space in your life for intentional playfulness, either with your family, friends, or on your own, you find what makes your heart sing. You begin to remember who you are under all of your titles, roles, achievements, promotions, responsibilities, and letters that follow your name. The truth is, playfulness is a key ingredient to making us happier, healthier, and more present and connected in all our relationships. It’s a win for everyone involved.
In her book, Well Played: The Ultimate Guide to Awakening Your Family’s Playful Spirit, Meredith Sinclair, M. Ed., shares some practical ways to make your home, your family, and ultimately your life a more playful place to be.
Put a PlayBowl on your Coffee Table. You know those toys that are locked up in the basement cupboards? Bring them out to play! Place a big, beautiful bowl or wire basket on your coffee table, and fill it with one kind of play thing. Jenga blocks, Lincoln logs, Dominos, Tinkertoys, Lego blocks, or toy soldiers. With a little shift in presentation, what was once a forgotten toy is now an invitation for some modern art.
Pump up the Jams. The music you play has a significant effect on the atmosphere of your home. You can instantly change the vibe of your home by plugging in the iPod and pumping up the tunes. When you bring some happy, encouraging tunes into your morning rush or afternoon doldrums, you can level out the stress. Remind your children that your home is a safe place to sing, dance, and play, that not everything gets posted on Facebook.
Get Family Photos in Their Hands. Clicking or swiping through a collection of photos is very different from holding and savoring them in your hands. These pictures we’re all posting on Instagram and Facebook – have them printed into tactile images you can hold. Fill a bowl or decorative box in your dining room or on your kitchen island with family photos. With companies like Chatbooks or an app called Free Photos, you can pull your pictures off your newsfeed and have them in your home for less than ten dollars.
Make Room for Rough Housing. Create a space in your home where wrestling, tumbling, and flipping are allowed. In a basement or playroom, stack up pillows, cushions, or some big tumbling mats, and let your boys be monkeys, through and through. It’s amazing what you can learn about your body when you’re allowed to play hard.
The Tablecloth of Awesome. Meredith suggests you ditch that grown-up tablecloth or fancy runner on your dining room table, and instead roll a sheet of butcher paper or chalkboard paper down the center of your table. Add a vase of colorful markers, pencils, chalk or chalkboard pens, and have your family write, draw, decorate, and doodle all over the new table covering. You could make it a collaborative, intermingling doodle that everyone adds to all week long.
Throw Something. Somehow and for some reason, kids love throwing things. Toss a baseball, a football, beach ball, tennis ball, ping pong ball, even a wadded newspaper. Throw it at your kids, and make sure they throw it back. Watch the silliness unfold and the laughter spill around you.
Have a Sleepover – for you and your kids. Who says you have to invite the neighbors or classmates over before you can sleep on the living room floor? Watch action movies, pop popcorn, play video games, and stay up late. Also, never underestimate the powers of a blanket fort. Pitch a small tent in your living room, throw in loads of blankets, pillows, and flashlights. Engage all the way, and sleep in sleeping bags until morning.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It’s a happy talent to know how to play.” Make sure your kids know how. And maybe teach yourself a thing or two along the way.
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Tricia Lott Williford is a remarried widow, a writer, teacher, reader, and thinker, and the author of three books. Her newest book is You Can Do This: Seizing the Confidence God Offers. Thousands of readers join her each morning for a cup of coffee as they sign online to read today’s funny, poignant stories that capture the fleeting moments of life. She collects words, quotes, and bracelets, and she lives in Denver with her husband and two sons. You can get to know Tricia through her regular posts at tricialottwilliford.com.