The Essentialism of Play

We are stuck in work mode!  We consider productivity, maximizing, organization, Marie Kondo-ing, and achievement all the time.  The questions swirl like, “What’s in it for me?” or “What is the ideal pathway?” incessantly.  Our rationalism, spirituality, and heritage worship work. But, maybe there is an essential role for play!

The Builder (my husband) and I are the worst!  We factor, budget, strategize, plan, and goal-set.  We read books together like Greg McKeown’s Essentialism and Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever!  Honestly, we are deeply committed.

But, what if we’re missing something? Something more magical and life-giving?

What if there isn’t enough PLAY in our lives?

What is playful?  When was the last time you entered deeply into play?

Dr. Gordon Neufeld, over the past decade, has started unfolding the powerful notion of play in our human development.  He is asking the question, “If we want to realize human potential, what is the role of play?”

So, as a Learn Forward village, I’d like to invite us all to take a closer look at the power of play, for children in particular.  Here are a few key ideas..

Play is Essential for a Child’s Development

Young children aren’t born with the capacity to work.  If a child is ‘stuck’ developmentally, he or she requires more play.

What we’re finding is, that outside of a deep attachment, play is the other way for children to manage the alarm of being in a wounding world through play.

Today I was on the phone with Dr. MacNamara of the Neufeld Institute Faculty and I asked her to describe why play is so essential for children.

Children need to “come up for air.”  When you have emotional stuckness or needs, play becomes a valve that provides rest. However, we can’t use play as punishments or leverage. Children shouldn’t have to earn their play.  Play’s ultimate purpose is to take care of emotion.”

Preserving and protecting play in the early years.  Learning through play and not forcing work.  Children need to “come up for air” and not using them as punishments or leverage.  Not earning your play.  When you have emotional stuckness or needs, play becomes valve that provides rest.  Cycling between working and rest…collision and explosion…islands of rest are non-existent.  If kids are stuck and highly needy.  Student isn’t ready to work or learn because they have a pressing emotional agenda.  Compensating for stuckness.  Get out of the work mode.  Play’s ultimate purpose is to take care of emotion.

Almost Anything Can Be Playful

Psychologist and developmentalists have a variety of definitions of play and it is often associated with ‘fun.’  One of the most significant aspects for me is that play must be free from the drive towards outcomes.  In other words, it is not work.  We’re not trying to win, achieve, complete, or gain.

In schools, we focus on outcomes, mastery, and standards.  This is crucial in learning theory.  However, a developmental approach encourages us to play. Neufeld offers the following description of play.

A great example from my own life was learning the piano.  Much of the time, the focus was on a performance, mastering a piece, or an examination.  However, at times, obviously often enough for me to persist, it slipped into play and it became a form of self-expression of many adolescent emotions, a source of freedom, a safe place for me to become completely engaged in the music.  My work became play.

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Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

In schools, we love to facilitate these conditions and our design must hold this intention.  We want students to lose themselves in the joy of exploration, curiosity, and engagement.  From there, the motivation is intrinsic.

While we have much to explore in the realm of play, our heart is to simply explore, unfold, and notice.  Alas, I cannot work at play.

For the sake of the children,