Playing Around

Last summer, I had occasion to spend a day at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. Initially I was somewhat reluctant about the excursion, but once I got there, all I wanted to do was play. The sheer volume of dolls and toys that are housed in this museum is stunning (every model of Barbie and GI Joe ever made, for instance) and the interactive activities – things you can get in, try, touch, and fiddle with – throughout every exhibit of the museum, are as intriguing for adults as for children (ahem).

The walls of the museum are covered with quotations extolling the value of play. They’re probably posted to remind the adults who find their way into the museum that play isn’t just for kids.

Experts will tell you that engaging in play is good for your health, that play can reduce stress, and that working in a playful way can increase the productive output of a team. There’s research (sadly now removed from the internet) that shows that the brains of rats living in a cage with toys and friends thrive, growing larger than those caged just with friends. (The brains of rats living without friends and toys actually decreased in size.) Laughing and playing are like pilates for the brain, strengthening it at the core and restoring balance.

There are books about the science of play, and books about play as a key to innovation. There’s even an institute for corporate play, and Stanford University even offers an engineering class in play and innovation.

Maybe creativity is just the adult word for play. Think about it: creativity involves testing, trying, imagining, pretending, expressing, making things up – everything that is part of a child’s world of play. When we use our creativity to solve a problem, we’re actually playing with the problem, playing with language and perspective, toying with possible solutions.

The problem is most adults equate play with silliness; we tend to think of work and play in polarized terms. But what if we viewed them as synonymous? The famous educator Maria Montessori said, “Play is the work of the child.” Couldn’t it be that work is the play of adults?

One of the quotes on the museum wall, by Greek philospher Plato, says it best: “Life must be lived as play.”

Know Further: If you want more play, watch these two TED talks: IDEO’s Tim Brown and the founder of the Institute for Play Stuart Brown on how play is more than just fun. Get more awesome quotations about humor, play and creativity.