Finding time to play is not just fun — it’s good for you. According to Dr. Stuart Brown of the National Institute for Play, “play is something done for its own sake.” It’s an activity without a point to it. That doesn’t mean that it’s not competitive – you could be a competitive card player at your Thursday night game, aggressively playing in a local basketball league, or pedaling hard to be the first of your bike-riding friends to make it to the top of the hill. If it’s all in good fun, your participation is voluntary, and you have a sense of engagement — then it’s play.
According to NPR’s interview with Brown, there’s a significant downside to not playing: “What you begin to see when there’s major play deprivation in an otherwise competent adult is that they’re not much fun to be around.” Without play, life is all work. And our culture already tends to be very work focused, particularly as technology has deeply integrated work into our lives.
- Consciously unplug from screens
- Add 5 minutes of play to EVERY day
- Add 2 hours of play to every weekend
1. CONSCIOUSLY UNPLUG. While technology can bring people together, it also separates us from the physical world we are in. So, choose a regular time when you will “unplug” from all technology. Maybe your morning coffee is a meditation-like quiet time, or your phone stays out of sight at all meal times, or everyone leaves their phones in a separate room for the evening. And by technology I mean all screens including computers, phones, and television. I’ll even suggest digital books – take away all screens.
A side note about games on your smart phone: while playing games on the phone can certainly be fun, many games are designed to be addictive. So, if you have a favorite game on your phone, but it feels addictive and not really fun any more, then delete it.
2. FIVE MINUTES OF DAILY PLAY. Just 5 minutes of pure, technology-free play. It’s hard to justify that you DON’T have 5 minutes to play — interrupting your serious busy life is the hardest part. But having a plan and the “tools” on hand will help. Here is a short list of some of many possibilities to inspire you to set aside 5 minutes every day. Ideally this is WITH someone, but I’ll also offer some solitary-play suggestions.
- Bananagrams takes about 5 minutes for one round (even shorter if there are more people)
- Five minutes outside passing a ball around (baseball? football? soccer?)
- Hopscotch – just need chalk, a stone, and some pavement
- Concentration or Memory Game (use fewer cards to make it a shorter game)
- A round of Connect 4
- Play one hand of gin rummy and keep the game going with another hand the next day
- A quick game of Spikeball (4 players and game required)
- One game of HORSE (basketball hoop & ball needed)
- Word game Boggle
- A quick round of Twister (using the provided spinner or calling the moves yourselves)
- Passing games such as Fuzzy Flyer or Bop-it that require you to follow random playful instructions.
If you’re on your own, try a game of Solitaire using real cards (not your phone), tossing a ball for a willing canine if that’s an option, hopscotch, the memory game (keeping a tally of the moves so you can compete with yourself if you want), Boggle, juggling a soccer ball or shooting hoops.
If you already play but you are reading this, is it because you need more? Consider ADDING five more minutes of play time to your day.
3. TWO HOURS OF WEEKEND PLAY
Taking a couple hours each weekend to really let loose can be incredibly freeing. It you’re like many, your weekends are full of tasks: looking after others (kids, parents, partners and friends), looking after your “stuff” (home, laundry, garden etc), looking after yourself (hair appointments, exercise etc), and some social time. Hopefully most of these activities are enriching your life rather than draining it. Consider that some of these “tasks”, particularly looking after kids and social time, are ideal opportunities to include play.
One suggestion: make your two hours of play a regularly scheduled event. It could be Sunday brunch activity or a Saturday in the park. For many years in our house it was Sunday evening: at 5PM everyone was expected to be in the kitchen, helping with dinner, setting the table, and getting ready for the evening. Homework for the teenagers was supposed be already finished (after all, they had all weekend, didn’t they?). It definitely didn’t happen every Sunday — often there was some small task left undone — but 5PM was the pre-dinner deadline; and after dinner was game time. In our house, the driving force was our youngest son, 10 years younger than his then-teenage siblings; Sunday was the one family evening we had that that didn’t involve friends, technology or homework. And while it didn’t happened every Sunday, it happened a lot.
So, find a regular time in your life when you play — and you can add in as many other “play times” as you can schedule. Some ideas to get you thinking:
- Join a league — be it basketball, softball, bowling, or soccer — as long as the spirit of the game is fun. It’s not a problem when a game is competitive. For many people, that’s part of the fun. It is a problem when the competition takes away the fun or drives people to injury (racing too fast for first base? not taking a break when something aches?). Don’t undertake anything unless it’s fun and good for your body.
- Create a bridge group (or Mah Jong or any other regular game). If you need to, get a tutor to teach you and your friends how to master a game and make it a regular gathering.
- Plan a game night with friends. You might consider playing Settlers of Catan, Code Names, Cards Against Humanity, Balderdash, or Liar’s Dice. You can even keep it simple with a potluck meal or snacks that makes it less stressful for the host.
- For a family game night, there are great games for teenagers (including some of the ones listed above) and many well suited to younger ones. You may also be able to find a junior version of your favorite teen+ game, as well as games played in teams, such as Taboo, where younger ones can easily be included. Some family game ideas are Ticket to Ride, Apples to Apples, Pictionary, Taboo, Sequence, Yahtzee, Monopoly, and dice games like Farkle.
- Start a jigsaw puzzle. We always had seasonal puzzles like the one of Santa that came out near Christmas and stayed out until it was done. You could have a puzzle made from a photo such as everyone in Halloween costumes or a birthday celebration. Or connect the puzzle to a trip you’ve taken (e.g. New York). If there are younger ones around, find a “family puzzle” that accommodates all ages by having large, medium and small pieces in the same puzzle. For the large puzzles, putting it together might be a multi-weekend affair, in which case you will need to find a space to leave it or invest in a puzzle roll-up that allows you to store your work-in-progress. If you are able to leave it out for a long time, it will work well for the 5-minute play break too.
These are just a few ideas to get you started. See if you can find some time to play today (and tomorrow and every day). And if you brush up on your math, sharpen your strategy skills, or stay a little more physically active in the process, those are all just bonuses. It’s about engaging in an activity without a point to it. Enjoy!