Sunday, July 27, 2014

What is Significant Play?

As I move through my Master's courses, I have reflected on the changes that came with the first four years. I have a much more profound appreciation for play and relaxation as I grow older. I realize the importance of play and how play allows me to work in a more in depth way. At my orientation for my Master's programs, the requirements and the roadblocks of the journey ahead of us were laid out with little fluff or decoration. We were forced to take in the enormity of what we had committed to. In this moment when I should be regretting my decisions and feeling overwhelmed by the looming madness I would enter in only two short weeks, my thoughts instead were with the classroom.

I thought to myself: What is significant play? We talk about play as work for children and I've long heralded that this is true for adults as well. Is all play significant, though? Must children have time to simply be and relax in order for their significant play to... Well for it to have the significance that it has? This question sits with me this weekend and I look back at the work the children have done in the past. Is their play significant when it's completely child driven like The Bakery? Is there a time that play is just play, or is it always work for children? And, most of all, why do we tend to think of play and work as being so different for adults? Letting the two overlap almost seems wrong to some.

I've posted the following video before but I feel it should be revisited regularly to remind us about the importance and significance that play holds in our lives so please, when you have time, watch Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discuss the concept of Flow.

Within Mihaly's wise words lies the answer to what makes play significant, yes, but I think it also suggests that sometimes play can be simply play. Sometimes we set out to let our minds rest. In reality, of course, everything we do adds to our knowledge and even the activities that let us zone out (television and video games, for example) are more engaging in our day and age than ever before because audiences demanded them to be so.

Rather than trying to define work and play, I argue that they are one and the same as long as they are fulfilling. If our work fulfills us, then we've found an element of play in it. We've found a way to connect with it, to make it ours, to take it on as a unique and wonderful way to further ourselves and our minds. If we aren't doing that, then work is simply tasks. It takes away rather than fills us up. The same goes for play. If play is fulfilling us- if we feel more after it- then we've found an element of work in our play. We, either consciously or subconsciously, have found how play enriches our lives and works our minds. This is something that children do almost effortlessly, as Mihaly suggests, but that adults need help with. This kind of play is what significant play is: when the element of work is awoken in play. Play that lacks this... believe it or not, I'm certain it empties us just as work without play does.

What about you, though? Tell me what you are certain of... because the real element of play in this work is the engagement I gain from my audience. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!


  1. If I'm remembering correctly Stuart Brown talks about play and work as being on a continuum, with much of our activity being somewhere in the middle - a mix of the two rather than pure work or pure play. I like your idea that both feed our minds, but that play does so in a more relaxed way - and we know that we learn more when we're relaxed!

    Where are you doing your Masters?

  2. Laurie- Sorry it took so long to reply! I'm actually a Business major at Eastern Oregon University (I was previously a philosophy major, changed to psych, got interested in sociology.... then realized that Business combines numerous elements that I love into one intense workload!). I agree that play and work feed us in different ways- I also think it's imperative to note that HOW you perceive work or play greatly influences the way that it feeds you. Personally, work feeds me in a unique and amazing way that I just don't get from relaxation (sadly) but I've always associated work with positives. I also think that work is and what play is change for us throughout our lifetimes. Of course, I'm sure I might feel differently about work if I didn't so enjoy the work I've chosen.