Vitamin Play

Writer Noch Noch Li | May 4, 2016

Nothing stops us from having fun or taking a break in our busy lives. During a boring train ride, we can entertain ourselves with humour. Perhaps think about stuffed squirrels gathered around a table for a card game, with one smart enough to cheat with a card hidden between his toes!   

This squirrel diorama is from the 19th century, exhibited in The Strong National Museum of Play in New York. Although many children visit the museum, the artefacts are meant to inspire adults to play. Scott Eberle, vice president for studies at the museum says, “Adults who want to have fun every day will cultivate a playful attitude.” We need to be open to the concept, for although many adults think play is reserved for children, it does wonders for our health, helping us unwind and relax. This seemingly meaningless pursuit is essential to our well-being says Professor Stuart Brown, president and founder of the National Institute for Play, who has spent a lifetime researching its health benefits.

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What is Play?

Defining play is convoluted and researchers have debated its elements. Most agree that it involves surprise, is fun, pleasurable and has no predetermined purpose. Brown says, “Play is unique and has meaning for you only. If you think ‘I will take a walk because it is good for my body’ it may not be play. But if you think: ‘I will take a walk just for the sake of it’, and then get lost in of your steps and the path, you may find a mini escape.”

Many of us forget or have forgotten how to play, even though there were times when rolling in the mud would send us into hysterics. Daniel Teitelbaum, head of curriculum at the School of Life Australia who also runs The Art of Play Class, says, “Play is by definition purposeless, despite being essential to ongoing healthy development throughout our lives. It is something adults hardly ever think to do.” This is counterintuitive as school, exams, jobs and responsibilities propel us against playing, deeming it a waste of time.

Work may be enhanced through play as it encourages creativity and innovation. A playful attitude inspires learning and problem-solving in adults as well. Professor Sue Jennings, professor of play at The Play and Drama Partnership says, “It’s okay to get things wrong, not understand something and try out a new approach.” To engage adult imagination, Jennings gets them to have fun with clay or cuddly toys. Who knows what ideas may spring to mind as CEOs try building a new company strategy using foam?

Games are another form of play that can stimulate insight. Resident mad scientist of the Thiagi Group, Dr Sivasailam Thiagarajan creates games that are intellectually stimulating in his workshops in Singapore, China and the US to encourage adults to learn. He provides a rationale of using the games as a ‘learning-by-doing approach’. “They are serious games including simulations and role plays that deal with principles and procedures used in the workplace.” Many forget that play need not be the same for everyone – one may find enjoyment rolling down slides backwards, whilst others relish in watching cars go by. We can find a form of playfulness that fits well into our cultures, work spaces and environments, something that is uniquely ours.

Play by definition is purposeless, despite being essential to our ongoing healthy development throughout our lives
~ Daniel Teitelbaum