Yay! It’s my first book review! Confession: I have no idea what I’m doing. This will be fun!
In case you don’t want to read my whole review, here is the bottom line takeaway:
“Play” is different for everyone, but it basically boils down to doing what feels authentic to you. It’s doing what you love. “When an activity speaks to one’s deepest truth, it is a catalyst, enlivening everything else.” The act of play “is a profound biological process. It has evolved over eons in many animal specials to promote survival. It shapes the brain and makes animals smarter and more adaptable. In higher animals, it fosters empathy and makes possible complex social groups. For us, play lies at the core of creativity and innovation.” “Ultimately, this book is about understanding the role of play and using it to find and express our own core truths.”
In other words, it’s a book about authenticity. Like, actual scientific proof that we are our best selves when we are being authentic. That the act of being authentic is actually good for our brains. Which is cool, since that’s kind of my jam.
Okay. On to the nitty gritty details.
Why did I choose this book?
School is starting up again, and I’ve been reading research on the importance of recess in developing well-rounded children because it offers opportunity for unstructured play time. This gives kids a chance to explore and to learn to self-regulate their behavior. For the past several years, education has been in a trend of cutting recess in favor of more time on content. We are now starting to figure out that this isn’t a good trade, for many reasons. I picked this book to help add to my collection of literature supporting the benefits of play in whole child development.
And this book does have some awesome info on the benefit of play in kids. It even talks about the benefits of different kinds of play. But it doesn’t stop with kids. It talks a lot about how adults can benefit (or suffer) from play (or lack thereof).
What was my biggest “aha” moment from this book?
I think the biggest surprise for me was in learning the science that shows how play (or lack of) affects the brain AND learning what that means for us as humans. For example, I had no idea how important play was for our social-emotional development as humans. I knew it helped with creativity and problem-solving. But play actually allows us to develop the skills necessary to connect with others, read social signals, and collaborate.
What was the best part of this book?
I would say it was probably expanding my definition of play and realizing how easy and beneficial it could be for me to work on developing a play attitude in my own life.
How was the reading experience?
Honestly, I’m not sure if pregnancy exhaustion played a role, but this book was a little tedious at times for me to get through. However, I had highlights and notes in every chapter so it’s not like it was dull. Bonus: it’s not too long of a book so even if it wasn’t the fastest read for me it was still manageable.
Would I recommend this book?
Yes. I think any book that offers this kind of insight into how our brains work AND encourages authentic living is a great thing for people to read.
“Play is how we are made, how we develop and adjust to change. It can foster innovation and lead to multibillion-dollar fortunes. But in the end the most significant aspect of play is that it allows us to express our joy and connect most deeply with the best in ourselves, and in others…. Play is the purest expression of love.”
(Why Play is Important for Kids)
“Once kids enter school, the importance of free play doesn’t end. All of the patterns that induce states of play are present and remain important for growth, flexibility, and learning. Unfortunately, we often forget this or choose not to focus on play’s necessity under intense pressure to succeed. No Child Left Behind is a perfect example. While it is an admirable (and even necessary) goal to make sure that all children attain a certain minimal level of education, the result has often been a system in which students are provided a rote, skills-and-drills approach to education and “nonessential” subjects like art and music are cut. In many school districts, even recess and education have been severely reduced or even eliminated.
The neuroscience of play has shown this is the wrong approach, especially considering that students today will face work that requires much more initiative and creativity than the rote work this educational approach was designed to prepare them for. In a sense, they are being prepared for twentieth-century work, assembly-line work, in which workers don’t have to be creative or smart–they just have to be able to put their assigned bold in the assigned hole.
In fact, Jaak Panksepp suggests that depriving young animals of play might delay or disrupt brain maturation. In particular, his research shows that play reduces the impulsivity normally seen in rats with damage to their brains’ frontal lobes–a type of damage thought to model attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because it affects executive functions such as self-control…. Without play, Panksepp suggests, optimal learning, normal social functioning, self-control, and other executive functions may not mature properly.”
(Play and Learning)
“Play isn’t the enemy of learning, it’s learning’s partner. Play is like fertilizer for brain growth. It’s crazy not to use it.”
(Play and Authenticity)
“…the self that emerges through play is the core, authentic self.”
(Play in Life)
“I think it is important for kids to keep a sense of perspective. It is important to recognize that taking care of responsibilities, getting good grades in school, and all the other teen duties are important, but they are not the be-all and end-all of life. These things are all, paradoxically, important but not important…. A playful attitude about life–not really taking everything like popularity or competitive academics or adult criticism so deeply seriously–is key, while at the same time tending to the necessities of growing up, staying within the boundaries of the law, taking no inordinate risks, avoiding addictions, and so on.”
(Play and Mastery)
“People always say that you can reach the top by ‘keeping your nose to the grindstone’, but as sports performance specialist Chuck Hogan observes, this is not true. People reach the highest level of a discipline because they are driven by love, by fun, by play. ‘The greatest performers performs as they do, and do so with such grace, because they love what they are doing,’ Hogan observes. ‘It is not work. It’s play.'”
(A Life of Play Doesn’t Mean No Discomfort)
“Making all of life an act of play occurs when we recognize and accept that there may be some discomfort in play, and that every experience has both pleasure and pain. That is not to say that bliss is suffering. My take is that following your bliss may be difficult, demanding, uncomfortable, tedious at times, but not really suffering. In the end, the good feelings we are left with are far greater than any difficulty we encounter as we played.”