When did we stop playing?

Playing is something I am trying to do more. My kids ask me to play all the time and I try to oblige as much as possible. I think playing is part of who we are. If I think about some of my most memorable times growing up, most involved playing in some way. But when did we stop playing? When did we grow up and playing was not socially acceptable as adults anymore?

Play is at the center of our creativity and innovation. It frees us from our sense of time. I can attest to this as I think back to my college days. One of my roommates was “playing” an imaginary baseball game as he was deep in thought as we studied for our athletic training certification exam. The game went on for months as we prepped for that exam. But him playing was his way of getting his mind in the right space to lock in all that knowledge and he truly lost track of time during it. Sometimes even today I ask him how is game is going when I see him.

Play is primal in nature. I look at squirrels as they dart around the yard seeming to chase something…many times each other. Kids start playing from a very early age. Not because they are taught to play, but because it is instinctive. We are “built to play and built through play” according to Dr. Stuart Brown, author of the national bestseller “Play”. So when do we grow out of playing? As we become adults we think that we have to go outback for hours at a time and run around and play chase or kick a ball or blow bubbles.  And while those are great play activities, we really only to do those things for short spurts of time to get the benefits of playing.

I was preparing for my new job today and had spent a few hours standing in front of the computer composing syllabi and lesson plans. My brain was starting to get foggy and I wasn’t sure I was quite seeing straight any longer. Finally my body said “enough already!” and I threw on some “play shorts” and went outside.  And why should my kids have all the fun on our evolving natural playground? So here is what I did…

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I went up and down the rope ladder a couple of times, climbed down the trees from various positions, and at one point just sat on top of the cross beam and looked at my backyard from the vantage point of a squirrel. It may have lasted ten minutes, but it reset my body and brain and I was able to head back inside afterwards and focus for a few more hours.

So next time you are wondering what you are doing on this planet, I encourage you to take a few minutes (or maybe hours since play allows you to lose all sense of time) and go outside and have no agenda and start playing around. Be a kid again. I think then you will find your focus.