Before starting this project, I thought my month of play needed to consist of lots of practical jokes, laughing until my stomach hurt and just being plain silly. Although I did laugh more and had fun, spending a month trying to integrate play into my life turned out to be much more than just moments of silly practical joking.
In fact, I actually learned that I just may not be as dull and boring as I often think I am. I just need to spruce it up a little, add a little sparkle here and there, and go with the flow a little more.
According to Dr. Stuart Brown author of Play, “Play is any kind of purposeless, all-consuming, restorative activity.” And if you’re not convinced it’s important, he also adds that play “is the single most significant factor in determining our success and happiness.”
So clearly, play provides more sweeping benefits than I had even considered. Here are just a few things I’ve learned in my month of experimenting with deliberately adding play, fun and joy into my life…
You can bring an attitude of play to any project, task or other responsibilities. Reframing ordinary activities like walking Lily, became exploring adventures through alleys and streets I never normally go down. Seeing the experience with a different lens allowed me to enjoy the experience in a new way.
At school, I tried to apply this state of mind to my classroom. I often use the same techniques to introduce concepts or teach lessons. Quite simply, they work…so I do them. But in honor of this month, I decided to mix up some things and taught an entire unit using new materials and some new approaches. I tried to approach the experience with more curiosity and less perfectionism. So quite spontaneously, I scrapped my unit plan for To Kill a Mockingbird and changed about 75% of what I normally do. The result was better teaching, more engagement and new experiences for both my students and myself. And to be quite honest, it wasn’t perfect but that wasn’t the point. I had fun and learned with my students this month.
Approaching my life and school with a more open, playful spirit has allowed me to try things I don’t always take the time to do. It’s refreshing that play doesn’t have to be one more thing I try to do. It can simply be a shift in my perspective.
Your version of playfulness might not be someone else’s. Approaching this month, I thought play was just about laughing more and having fun. Sure it can be about that, but really it’s about rekindling those experiences that you had when you were a child that made you feel alive. So what were those things you did as a kid that put you in a state of flow or “in the zone.” If you can’t remember right away, ask a parent or spend time thinking of powerful memories that you have of your childhood. Then take some time to do those things.
After going through my childhood list, it was clear that I always loved the same things: writing, reading, and being outside. Instead of trying to have fun doing other activities, I decided to do more of the things I already love doing. So I rekindled my love of writing this month, but in a non threatening, playful way. It’s not about seeing my words in print or being an author. It’s about actually exploring writing as a playful practice.
Initially, I thought I would have trouble finding ways to play but I’ve found there are a ton of ways to let go and have fun, be light and enjoy life: watching SNL clips, running in the snow with big flakes falling all around, treating myself to a cup of coffee on my way home, sitting by the fire not worrying about Monday to-do lists or papers needing graded. These are but a few moments of many that I found myself savoring and enjoying.
I was also pleased to realize that I did exercise my play muscles when Jordan and I plan Field Trip Fridays during our summer month and when I take time to create a weekly craft project.
We all need a little play time in our lives. It’s not a prescription to add more, but instead look at your approach to the things you are already doing. According to Brown, “Of course we need food, shelter, sleep and love, but even if we have taken care of simply surviving and reproducing, play is what allows us to attain a higher level of existence, new levels of mastery, imagination, and culture.” So although it may seem counterintuitive, making time for play will help you balance other areas of your life and can even help with creative endeavors and problem solving. It’s not a frivolous pursuit, but rather a necessary tool to create happiness, joy and meaning in all areas of your life.
So quite simply I learned that everyone should spend some time playing…guilt free. It’s beneficial to all facets of your life and something that I clearly realized was missing in a big way from mine. Taking this month to focus on play, joy and more fun, gave me a reason to find ways to be easier and more gentle on myself. Moving forward I will be on the lookout for times when I force solutions, am not smiling and have found reasons to stop finding time to add some play to my everyday experience. In those moments, I will try to remember how important and imperative play truly is for a happy life!
I hope you find some places you can add play, fun and joy to your everyday lives. Please email or add to the comments below some ways you have found to add play to your day!