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Kids of All Ages (up to 100) Need to Play!

By Shlomo  Maital   


   Hilary G. Conklin, Ph.D., is a fellow with the OpEd Project and an associate professor in the College of Education at DePaul University in Chicago. Writing in TIME magazine’s IDEAS on-line blog, she writes:  “Helicopter parents and teachers, stand down. Kids of all ages need time to learn through play in school.”   It’s time we got serious about the crucial importance of play.  (My wife brought this piece to my attention).

   She continues:   “In classrooms across the country, the countdown to summer vacation has begun. The winter doldrums have always taken a toll, but in the era of test-dominated schooling and the controversial Common Core, it seems increasingly that it’s not until summer that teenagers have any prospect for having fun any more. One of the casualties of current education reform efforts has been the erosion of play, creativity, and joy from teenagers’ classrooms and lives, with devastating effects. Researchers have documented a rise in mental health problems—such as anxiety and depression—among young people that has paralleled a decline in children’s opportunities to play. And while play has gotten deserved press in recent months for its role in fostering crucial social-emotional and cognitive skills and cultivating creativity and imagination in the early childhood years, a critical group has been largely left out of these important conversations. Adolescents, too—not to mention adults, as shown through Google’s efforts —need time to play, and they need time to play in school Early childhood educators have known about and capitalized on the learning and developmental benefits of play for ages.”    

   “To be sure,” she continues, “there are times to be serious in school. The complex study of genocide or racism in social studies classrooms, for example, warrant students’ thoughtful, ethical engagement, while crafting an evidence-based argument in support of a public policy calls upon another set of student skills and understandings. As with all good teaching, teachers must be deliberate about their aims. But, given that play allows for particular kinds of valuable learning and development, there should be room in school to cultivate all of these dimensions of adolescent potential.   Purposefully infusing play into middle and high school classrooms holds the potential for a more joyful, creative, and educative future for us all—a future in which kids have more interesting.”

      Dr. Conklin might have added that adults, too, of all ages, especially us senior citizens, need opportunities to fool around, imagine, create and play.   Creative ideas emerge from an ambience of fun, joking and just general fooling around.  And most important — play is fun.  When life is enjoyed, it is prolonged. 

 Can You Come Out to Play?  WILL You?

By Shlomo  Maital


   I’m married to a very smart psychologist, who is an expert on children and play; as a result, I get to read many interesting, sometimes wonderful, articles.   The latest is one published in 2007, by L.A. Barnett, titled “The nature of playfulness in young adults”.  The purpose of the article was to see if the term “playfulness” could become a valid “construct”, i.e. a clear, well-defined concept recognizable by all and useful for further research.  To this end, the author used focus groups of adults.

     The result:  A rather long, but insightful, definition of “playfulness” in adults.

      Here it is.  Read it.  See if you have these qualities.  Why?  Because, as the author notes, “playful people are uniquely able to transform virtually any environment to make it more stimulating, enjoyable and entertaining.”    Want an extreme example:  Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, a film about a father who made life in a Nazi concentration camp into a game, for his young son (Academy Award, Best Actor 1999). 

 Playfulness is the predisposition to frame (or reframe) a situation in such a way as to provide oneself (and possibly others) with amusement, humor and/or entertainment.  Individuals who have such a heightened predisposition are typically funny, humorous, spontaneous, unpredictable, impulsive, active, energetic, adventurous, sociable, outgoing, cheerful, and happy, and are likely to manifest playful behavior by joking, teasing, clowning, and acting silly.

   Do any of those adjectives describe you?  Yes?  No?  If no – do you want them to?  If so, you can definitely change.   Just remember how you played when you were a child, and copy yourself as you once were.  

   What does this have to do with innovation?   “Reframing” (seeing the same thing differently from others) is a key part of playfulness, and a key aspect of creativity.  If you can ‘reframe’ to play, you can reframe to create.   

  • L.A. Barnett. The Nature of Playfulness in Young Adults.   Personality and Individual Differences, 43 (2007), pp. 949-958.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital