MA Blogger: Brenda Bernstorf
Play is any activity in which there is room for spontaneous invention and/or change.
Dr. Edward M. Hallowell in The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness
Dr. Hallowell says the opposite of play is not work it is doing what you are told to do. Rote memorization is the opposite of play but thinking up a mnemonic device to remember a series of items can be playful. He also says that play can be governed by rules. He uses the example of playing the piano – he says you follow a score but some people have the ability to play without a score. However, they do abide by theoretical rules of music in chord progressions or our ears would perceive difficulties. But if you have every played a board game such as Monopoly – there are rules – even if you change the rules – there are still rules that everyone abides by.
When I was very young, one Christmas I received a doll called “Chatty Cathy.” I was fascinated by this doll. You could pull a string and she would talk to you. My brother was also fascinated by this doll – but he wanted to see how it worked. He proceeded to take it apart. She never talked again. I was disappointed. I’m sure my parents were not. The interesting thing is that my brother’s play of discovery was indicative of who he would become because he can fix anything now. He absolutely understands mechanical things.
Dr. Hallowell sees play as a time of learning the skill of play. This skill leads to the creative use of time no matter where you are or what you are doing. Play is closely related to what Csikszentmihalyi called flow. When children play they usually become absorbed into the activity which is an indication of reaching the total focus of flow. Hallowell says the more chances we have to reach flow the happier we are and play is the childhood equivalent of flow. Csikszentmihalyi says that children need to engage in active, mental leisure work in order to learn flow.
For more information see:
Hallowell, E. M. (2002). The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness: Five Steps to Help Kids Create and Sustain Lifelong Joy. Random House Publishing Group, New York, NY.