What’s So Great About Play?

~posted by Ruth

“The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.  Artists play with color and space.  Musicians play with sound and silence.  Gods play with the universe.  Children play with everything they can get their hands on.”  Stephen Nachmanovitch

Play is one of the great primal life functions, an important aspect of the human experience in all cultures. The starting places of creativity are all rooted in play, whether it is in improvisation, composing, writing, dancing, or painting.  It’s even hard to define play because it is not so much dependent on what we do as how we do it. There’s a wonderful anthropological term for play:  “galumphing.”  Galumphing is that rambunctious and joyful—sometimes excessive—play-energy: “When we hop instead of walk, when we take the scenic route instead of the efficient one, when we voluntarily create obstacles in our path and then enjoy overcoming them, we are galumphing,” Stephen Nachmanovitch writes. Play is an attitude and spirit–exploring, being, and doing for its own sake.

Reading really is—or can be—a child’s play, too.  An important goal we have for the children in our lives is that they will be ludic readers, from the Latin ludo, I play.

Most child development experts agree that play is the foundation for intellectual exploration.  Psychologist Susan Linn states bluntly that “play is how children learn to learn.”  In order to engage in play, children solve problems, reason, create stories, and with that, create new possibilities for learning.    When children imagine themselves making dinner, flying an airplane, or being a superhero, they try out different language patterns than the ones they might normally use, and even invent new ones in the midst of their play.  It is a joyful experience of creative play where they are able to be in charge, directing the process of discovery and invention.

There are a handful of really great new books on play–wonderful resources for both parents and teachers.  We hope you’ll check them out–and explore with your kids how to give play the place it deserves in all our lives!

Play:  How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

by Stuart Brown


A Child’s Work:  The Importance of Fantasy Play

by Vivian Gussin Paley


The Case for Make Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World

by Susan Linn


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