We only have to choose to view an activity as play. Immerse ourselves in it. Think not of the goal. Think not of what someone has told you about the rules of this game/activity/hobby. Simply play.

Learning by playing

“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” ~ Kay Redfield Jamison 

When I taught young children, I held fast to the credo, “Play is a little one’s work.” They played with Cuisinaire rods; they played with big wood blocks; they played with pattern blocks. Second graders “played’ with money at a store I set up in the classroom. We had managers, cashiers, salespeople, a bank. Each student got a week’s pay and learned about budgeting, saving, and often “impulsive spending.”

Today I’m a taller, bigger “kid.” I know I need time to play. Having a specific time to play with no deadline to get it done lets my creativity simmer and bubble and erupt into a not so perfect idea. Hmm. This could work!

Essays and meditations in The Thich Nhat Hanh Collection suggest having an easy, relaxed “enjoy this moment” attitude for anything-walking, washing dishes, fixing something. Playing does work. 

Many years ago I had a very active wiggly kindergartener in the class of naturally active five year olds. Let’s call him Jimmy. When the spirit moved him, Jimmy would bounce up out of his little chair or up off the carpet. “I go play now. I see you later,” and he’d make a beeline for the hall. Jimmy needed to play first. For him it meant he had to MOVE. And so off he went. We did work out safer strategies,  (What teacher of young kids doesn’t know “Jello in a Dish”?) But young Jimmy was definitely on to something there. Play.

“Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent, and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.” ~ Henri Matisse

When I’m in collaboration with someone who accepts all early ideas and actually goes with it, our process is not only safe and fun, it’s creative and successful. We called it piggybacking with kids in school. It works with anything. 

Brainstorming. Now there’s a word. If it’s all allowed, no boundaries (other than physical and emotional safety) you can really have some fun. And no headaches or fears of rejection. 

“Play is training for the unexpected.” ~ Marc Bekoff

Climbing trees, sledding down a hill, messing around with clay or pottery, making a collage, playing with words-all prep for life. Even watching a teenage girl kissing her boyfriend had my sister and me wondering how they knew which way to tilt their heads. We always bumped chins when we play-acted. Many childhood activities trained me for the big world out there – rock climbing, skiing, creating a work of art, writing a story, giving a speech, sharing my heart. 

“There is for many a poverty of play.” ~ D.W. Winnicott 

While on a weekend with women friends, we danced, braided each other’s hair  (some of us had extremely short hair styles), sang at the top of our lungs in the rowboat late at night, and laughed until our jaws ached. I wondered how people felt who never had that kind of play.

Another friend of a certain age confided, “I never learned how to play.” She seemed to feel she was too old to learn. She had filled her life with serious activities that she loved or — well, who knows? She was a voracious reader, a whiz at crossword puzzles, laughed watching others play but gave a brief wave of the hand “No, no I’ll just watch” to invitations to join the group. That was as far as she got in entering her playground. 

“Children who play creatively find multiple uses for objects. They can transform a blanket into a tent one day and a cave the next. A stick can be a magic wand, a sword, a lightsaber, or a mast for a schooner.” ~ Susan Linn. 

Remember Whose Line is It Anyway? One game was to demonstrate alternative uses for an object-outside of its conventional use. We’ve done this at parties, in groups. It’s always good for a laugh.

A guy I know entertained me at a diner by using every object on the table as something else while we waited for our food. It happened at a time when I was pretty down in the dumps. Very much in the dumps. I laughed like I hadn’t in months. Think of Fred Klett, Sinbad at his best, Gilda Radner. Better yet, don’t think. Just play.

Our brains are built to benefit from play no matter what our age.” ~ Theresa A. Kestly  

So in today’s Zoom culture and pandemic, where it’s “here comes another variant,” I think play takes on an even more important dimension. Playing leads to laughing, hugging (well, virtually) and ways to laugh, smile, wave, sing, hum, do a happy dance. Some folks are learning to exaggerate facial expressions from the top of the nose up-waggling of eyebrows, hand signals, head bobbing. Play with it. 

If outright play doesn’t come easy, watch some movies or You Tube clips that make you smile, make you want to dance, make you want to play.

Set your intention to play more, to be freer, no feedback, no rules (other than self and other safety).



Watch Young Frankenstein ( I know it’s old, but it’s a gem)

You Tube:

Old Movie Stars Dance to Uptown Funk   

Chinese Group Shuffle Dance 

(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher – Jackie Wilson – Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth HD .

Buzz and the Dandelions https://www.digitaltrends.com/movies/funniest-youtube-videos/

Google arts  https://artsandculture.google.com/project 

Twin Babies Laughing

The Otters: River Otters Tilly and BC Frolic

Check out The Way of Play  by Victor Shamas Ph.D., Act On Wisdom pub.


Ride your bike.

Walk, skip, jog, run.  

Think lovely thoughts.

Play, sing, make music.

Smile. Giggle. Laugh. Guffaw. 

Give away something you love.

Try tai chi, sitting or walking meditation.

Climb a tree, shake a tree after the rain.

Play tennis, pickle ball, volleyball, basketball.

Paint, make greeting cards, send photos to friends. 

Change your profile photo on Zoom. Make it unusual. 

Play “ha-ha” with some people in your pandemic pod. 

Jump in the water-filled washes on the Catalina trails.

Practice some dance steps waiting on line at Safeway.

Choose to smile at everyone (even behind the mask).

Puzzle it out: jigsaw, crossword, Sudoku™, scrambled words.

Do something in a totally different way from what you are used to.

Go on a picnic with someone (s) you really like/love. Bring delicious food. 

Watch and listen to young children at a playground, away from “the adults.”

People watch. Create a bio for people you see in the park, at the supermarket. 

Create your own holiday-the date, theme, song, costume, food, opening ceremony. 

Exaggerate something that happened to you in an over-the-top positive way. Write it down. Read it to someone.

Go on a mystery outing. One person plans, decides, sets time parameters, date, equipment needed, clothing required. Off you go! (Thank you, Penelope Starr).

Add more here…

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic.