Creativity and play go hand in hand. When we play, we let ourselves move in to a physical and emotional state that allows our creativity to flow more naturally. Our logical and analytical left brain takes a break and our right brain can start making all kinds of insightful connections.
Neuroscience has demonstrated that playful environments “powerfully shape the cerebral cortex”, the part of the brain where the highest level of cognitive processing take place.
So it makes sense that if you don’t play much, your ability to be creative is stifled. Now, you might think that you don’t need to be that creative, especially if you link creativity with the arts. But today’s adults face much more complex challenges than previous generations.
Increasing your creativity will certainly benefit you at work. Science has already shown that people who play are more adaptive, innovative, and have more positive relationships. And the benefits don’t just stop there.
According to the National Institute of Play, play is vital for our health and wellbeing. Research has shown that play generates optimism, spurs curiosity, fosters empathy, cultivates perseverance, and leads to mastery.
Conversely, cultures, societies and families that have a prolonged deprivation of play experience increases in depression, stress related diseases, addictions and interpersonal violence.
Play enhances learning for people of all ages. When people have fun while learning, they continue to pursue learning on their own and become lifelong learners. Studies reveal that people who are willing to learn are more adaptive, flexible and resilient for a lifetime.
Play is a big part of not only our humanity but our soul as well. When we play, we abandon our worries and let the truest expression of our inner light shine.
Dr. Stuart Brown, author of Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul has identified seven patterns of play. Consider your experiences with each type, both as a child and how it shows up in adulthood:
- Attunement play occurs between infants and their parents or adult caregivers. As they look at each other, they naturally smile and connect, i.e., become attuned to each other. This affects their right cerebral cortex, which coordinates our emotional control.
- Body play occurs through movement and is how we learn to coordinate our bodies. Children naturally enjoy this process and as we grow, we can expand to more complex movement like sports and dance with increasing precision and control.
- Object play is how we play with things. This begins with simple things like banging on a pan or bouncing a ball and increases in complexity as we develop dexterity. Videogames, painting, and cooking are forms of object play. Many complex skills develop from our base in object play, like surgery, engineering, and driving.
- Social play is the play we do with others. From simple hide-n-seek and wrestling with another person to complex games with many, social play creates the base for interpersonal relationships, collaboration, and empathy.
- Imaginative play is where much of creativity is sourced from. It starts with simple pretend play as children as we take on characters like firefighter and teacher and extends to fantastical creations of made-up worlds, languages and situations.
- Narrative play involves storytelling and is how we make sense of the world and our place in it. Storytelling is part of every culture and allows us to cross concepts of time and space as well as access various emotional states. Many believe that storytelling most directly matches our inner sense of consciousness as we live the story of our lives.
- Creative play occurs when we use our sense of fantasy or imagination to transcend or transform what is currently known to a new state. Musicians and dancers often use creative play to develop new work and Einstein was known for using this kind of play to consider unproven scientific ideas.
Dr. Aletha Solter is a child development specialist and author of several books including Attachment Play: How to solve children’s behavior problems with play, laughter and connection. She states that play is often how children work out their emotions.
Children use separation games, power-reversal games, and seven other types of attachment play to process their thoughts and feelings.
And grownups benefit from play too. Charlie Hoehn, author of Play It Away: A workaholic’s cure of anxiety, used to suffer from intense and debilitating panic attacks. He found that play was a big part of his healing journey to wholeness.
Play is important.
Find a way to build more play into your life. It can be simple and solitary or complex and collaborative. The most important thing is that it is fun.
And if you are a parent or teacher, you can help build great play habits. Learn more about the value of play and build the different types in to your child’s life.
Also, be sure you buy toys that inspire creativity. One of the downsides of our current media landscape is that every kid movie now generates its own line of merchandise including toys. And while children love their favorite characters, playing with those toys can limit creativity because those characters come with their names, clothes and stories already pre-written. This doesn’t leave the children much room to create their own.
Research shows that kids tend to re-enact the movie they already saw rather then invent entirely new situations. This is why child development experts recommend that you purchase toys that encourage creativity. Toys that have components for building or drawing allow children the freedom to use those components in new ways.
I think toys like legos and goldieblox are great. But if you want to inspire real creativity, also throw away the “instructions” and the picture on the box. Even these creativity-inspiring toys can become tools of conformity when the kids focus on doing “right” like the picture or manual shows. Real play is never about doing it “right.”
If you want to learn more, watch the documentary Consuming Kids: The commercialization of childhood. Even the 5 min trailer on the Mediaed.org website is very eyeopening. CommercialFreeChildhood.org also focuses on these issues and has a current campaign to shut down Mattel’s new “Hello Barbie” doll because the wifi-connected doll records what children say and sends the data back to the corporation for consumer analysis.
Play is powerful for helping us achieve our potential. Consider how you can boost your playtime. Schedule playdates—they are not just for kids. You should have a good play session at least once per week and more is better. And if you need motivation, remember this quote from Dr. Brown:
“The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression.” ~ Dr. Stuart Brown