"Play is an essential function of the passage from immaturity to emotional maturity. Any individual without the opportunities for adequate play in early life will go on seeking them in the stuff of adult life."

Margaret Lowenfeld

"Play is the exultation of the possible."

Martin Buber

When children play they open possibilities for future activity. They try on roles, learning to think, do and feel in new ways. Their dry run experiments with the ways of the world open doors of perception. What they learn in play may guide their choices and behaviors for years to come.

Sometimes the adult world can be all work and no play. Play is thought frivolous. It's kid's stuff. Fair enough, but since being a kid is about being in a world of infinite possibilities, maybe kid's stuff is not so bad. The Lowenfeld quote above is true, but it seems to contain the unfortunate assumption that once we become adults play can stop. The underlying message, which reflects our general cultural belief, is that if you are mature you don't play. The flip side of this common belief, which we would like to emphasize, is that if you want to continue to grow, to develop new potentialities and capabilities, you will continue to play.

While play helps us explore new ways of thinking and doing, it can also be addicting. Some of us habitually substitute play for real world experience. Computer games and surfing the web are forms of play that many of us find very compelling. If we aren't careful they may become substitutes for relationships, productive work, and other things we ought to attend to. We want to be able to play, to grow, to have fun. We need balance between what is serious and what is not.


In the spirit of play, in which nothing should be taken too seriously, contemplate your beliefs about yourself and play. Ask yourself:

Do I give myself permission to play, to be playful?

Do I limit my playfulness because I'm afraid of appearing frivolous or silly?

Do I avoid important parts of my life by addictive play?

Do I have hobbies that help me express my creativity?

This week consciously attend to your sense of play. Be sure to take time to engage in playful activity. Use your imagination.

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© 2003 Tom Barrett