Most adults rarely make time for play. Improv comedians and childcare professionals aside, most of us don't let ourselves indulge. In addition, we're so freaked out by the day-to-day realities of our world that we rarely let our children out of our sight. We're losing the ability to play, and, in many cases, preventing our kids from learning to do it properly in the first place.
We should all be playing more. Playing can be how we learn — how we help our brains grow.
Several years ago, I saw author Michael Chabon speak on the topic of "play" — as in, making room for play in our lives and our children's lives so that our imaginations learn to play. (To be clear, I'm paraphrasing something I heard nearly a decade ago, but I think this was the gist of it.) He talked about his own childhood: Of his gold-toned memories of taking off on his bike for hours at a time, inhabiting worlds of his own creation and becoming the hero or conqueror of each. Of the amazing freedom he — and his imagination — came to know and love as a result. As an adult, Chabon could write amazing, fantastical books because, as a child, his imagination had learned to play.
Chabon transposed these memories with the modern-day reality of his own young daughter at the same age. He and his wife were loath to let her ride her bike anywhere alone. Even permitting her to ride solo to the convenience store just around the corner was enough to give them heart palpitations: TOO MANY THINGS could happen. So where would her self-created worlds be built? Only created under parental or adult supervision? Would she be hero or conqueror of anything beyond the confines of the interior of their San Francisco home? It wasn't the same as what he'd been allowed. It wasn't fair.
Chabon posed a very real conundrum: in an unsafe, stress-laden world filled with dangers seen and unseen, how can we retain the ability to play freely... so that our imaginations, too, have room to roam?
Again, the fact is, we rarely do. Most of the time, our lives lack imagination or play. Day to day, our self-created worlds are largely lined with taupe office cubicles, cleaning supplies for body and home, chores and work to be done, routines to be gotten through, and maybe, if we're lucky, some Netflix or a meal out on the town. We're missing out on a ton of good ideas that our brains aren't given the freedom to have.
I'm not here to prescribe a play regimen for you. That's the exact opposite of the goal of getting YOUR imagination to do some work. I'm just here to say: encourage yourself to break out of your routine from time to time. Make yourself leave the house without a plan, and *come up with one*. And if you've got kids, try to find safe avenues to give their imaginations more room to play. But for goodness sake, try to think beyond Minecraft, Candy Crush, or anything you play on a gaming system. I'm not saying that's not valid play; just that you should challenge yourself and your kids to get outside and inhabit worlds of your own creation.
To get you started, you might think of some of the ways you used to love to play when you were a kid, and start there. Whatever you do, if you feel a little ridiculous as you're doing it, you're probably on the right track.