Here’s a quote I love: “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” – CS Lewis
I’m a supporter of all things colouring and make ‘n do – you may have deduced this from a quick glance at the pics I use on this site…You may also have noticed the new colouring craze for adults, and you can’t have not noticed the explosion in online gaming and so on.. Are we going back to play as our world gets more and more serious?
Chrissie Russell journalist, purveyor of fine questions and wonderings has noticed too, and she asked me questions about that resulted in this piece. Here’s the full conversation:
Q: There’s been a real boom in the sales of colouring books for adults as well as playgrounds opening up for grown ups, ballpools, swings etc… I want to know – what are the benefits of playing like a child?
The benefits of playing like a child are many: it gives us a chance to have time out, to explore our creativity. Doing this might help us to come up with solutions to problems through the play itself, or merely through giving ourselves time off from work to play. We associate play with fun and being younger and so we feel we’re having fun and we feel younger when we play – it can only be good! When we engage in the artistic endeavors to which you you allude, it can have the added benefit of giving us a space to express our selves emotionally, a place to share our adult sized feelings, anxieties and fears, losses in a way that’s safe and easy. A way that’s easier than speaking, for some of us. Art in particular can help us to say things for which we have no words, or the words are too difficult to utter aloud.
Q: What is it specifically about the nature of this type of play? (ie colouring in or playing on the swings rather than ‘adult’ play pastimes like poker or squash?)
I believe it’s the association with childhood. Poker or squash can be great fun, but they are not a about free expression, nor are they particularly emotive. They are more about meeting other needs like power (through winning or beating an opponent, or ‘the odds’), or anesthesia – by which I mean we can medicate, comfort or distract ourselves by gambling, winning, risking. But the child like play isn’t about medicating or dulling feelings, it’s about expressing them. Which is healthier and ultimately feels better.
Q: I read somewhere that ‘nothing lights up the brain like play’ – what does that mean and why is it a good thing?
What you read was most likely referring to fMRI scanning technology where people who are “playing”, engaging in art, or music, or other creative activities, show increased brain activity. It’s over simplifying to say that the brain lights up though, there is still much we don’t understand when we view fMRI scans – beautiful and fascinating as they are. We are MRI infant school as yet; nowhere near even junior cert level when it comes to knowing why and how different areas “light up”.
Q: Why is play so important for children’s development and, if it’s so beneficial, why do we have to put away our childish things when we grow up?
This is a great question – it is through play that children learn important social rules, they learn about fairness, sharing, and more complex things like colour coding, counting, and importantly associations – the basis of intelligence. We are trained out of play in school and into more serious activities. That’s because much of what we learned through play has.. well… been learned, and so we risk boredom unless the play can become more sophisticated. Enter adult games, online gaming, social media and so on. Much of which is play like in flavour. And their success is due to the play-like nature that we love, with the added appeal of more adult type content, contact and new learning as games develop and their stories move and are created.
Q: So is it because child-like play isn’t obviously productive?
Yes, as we grow its value and usefulness diminishes and we need more complexity, as above. Put simply, it stops meeting our more complex needs as we mature. Unless we find a more complex form, as above. The adult colouring books tend to have very complex patterns in them, not simple lines. Hence their appeal: they provide best of both worlds!
Q: Is play seen as frivolous…that we should have better things to do?
Yes, which is unfortunate. We would do well to play more, for playing’s sake. By which I mean, just to have fun. Not to meet power needs, or financial control needs but rather to meet our need for fun and connection. Playing, like the colouring book craze to which you refer, meets our need for fun and freedom in that we get to play explore and choose how we do so.
Q: Do we need to value play more? Ooooooh Yes
Q: Is it an important mental time out?
Yes! The colouring craze (which I’m delighted about incidentally) helps people to wind down. It’s contemplative, evocative of childhood, meditative almost. I would certainly encourage people to give it a try. I worked with art materials exclusively while I worked in Barnardos with bereaved children and I really noticed how very effective a tool art is for expression. I also noticed how much I personally missed working with art when I resigned. I have since invested in markers, crayons and sketch pads and have them in both my home and office – almost every blog post I write here and on TwoWiseChicks is accompanied with something I’ve (we’ve) drawn! Regardless of whether or not you’re “artistic”, engaging with colour and images can be enormously therapeutic. And just look at the range of gorgeous books available to us! I also invested in a doll’s house and I actually play with it sometimes myself in between clients! When we see adults playing chase or frisbee or running with their dogs, playing ball in a pool, it makes us smile. Isn’t that great?
We could all do with smiling more!:)
Q: Do we need to place more importance on letting our creative, fun side have its daily workout?
Absolutely – like I say – fun is a very basic human need.
Q: Why do you think we’re seeing such an interest in this area now?
Honestly I don’t know, but I think it may be connected to the current popularity of mindfulness – another good thing. It’s important that we stop using words like ‘childish’ and ‘childlike’ as if they are ‘bad’ things. Of course we need maturity to engage healthily in relationships and to live well as members of a functioning society, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop having fun.
Playing and having fun is creative and grounding, both are good, neither will cause harm.