“… If a single function can be ascribed to every form of play, in every playful species, according to this way of thinking, it is that play contributes to the growth of more supple, more flexible brains.”

NYTimes article, 2/17/2008

The feeling that play has steadily been removed from many aspects of life, not just for kids, but for adults as well, is steadily coming to societal consciousness. We have known ourselves to have long work hours, but the impact of this concept is only beginning to be understood.

Play is a state of mind that allows for many possible directions of growth. It can function as a fertile land of possibilities and as a ready state of focus upon the moment where the mind interacts and eagerly learns. Unfortunate depictions of the play in terms like “apparently purposeless activity” and “a frivolous luxury” completely miss the mark.

The article takes a more scientific bent than my tendencies towards romantic language, but the direction is overall the same:

“For all its variety, however, there is something common to play in all its protean forms: variety itself. The essence of play is that the sequence of actions is fluid and scattered. In the words of Marc Bekoff, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado, play is at its core ‘a behavioral kaleidoscope.'”

“… Animal findings about how play influences brain growth suggest that playing, though it might look silly and purposeless, warrants a place in every child’s day. Not too overblown a place, not too sanctimonious a place, but a place that embraces all styles of play and that recognizes play as every bit as essential to healthful neurological development as test-taking drills, Spanish lessons or Suzuki violin.”

An interesting aspect of the article creeps up toward the end – the idea that play has a “dark side.” It is a point where the author brings up her own past and hardships on the playground as a child. There is a certain danger to letting a child run about on the loose, perhaps especially amongst other kids.

But, it is precisely in play that a darker side of humanity may be brought to light for its understanding. There is a reason that the fairy tales of old, not the modified ones to which we’ve become accustomed, can be quite dark. Ignoring and supressing this aspect may be to our detriment:

“Brian Sutton-Smith, one of the nation’s most eminent play scholars, has seen eruptions like the General’s many times before, but they don’t worry him. In fact, he embraces them. In such an elaborate play culture, he wrote, where so many harsh human truths come to the fore, ‘children learn all those necessary arts of trickery, deception, harassment, divination and foul play that their teachers won’t teach them but are most important in successful human relationships in marriage, business and war.’”

Much of the article is focused on children, though it does mention something about adults towards the beginning. It likely could bear much more discussion on adults. For adults, Play may take the form of a meditation. It holds a place in the day where one practices a ready anticipation and awareness of the moment, in whatever form that may be.

See also previous articles related to Play: