Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Profound Power of Play: Why you should do it each and every day

Written by Graduate Student Erica Swiatek
In the book Play, Dr. Brown examines play and the various aspects of life it impacts. His career has been spent studying play, communicating the science of play to the public, using play therapy and consulting for Fortunate 500 companies on how to incorporate play into business.

I have seen the difference play makes in so many aspects of people’s lives and have always been fascinated by the importance of play. I have worked at organizations that encouraged play and others that did not, and for me there is a huge feeling of fulfillment when work and play is combined. Play takes us away from the normalness of work and ignites our imaginations, enhances our learning and makes us feel more alive. Play talks about this and so much more.

The authors talks about how play is even linked to survival. The thought that survival could be linked to play might seem like a radical thought to some, but as the authors explains it is a very viable conclusion. They discuss an example where polar bears that had not eaten for months came upon a camp with some sled dogs. One of the dogs saw the bears and got into a play stance, bowing his head and wagging his tail, and that’s when something amazing happened. The polar bears began to play with the dogs. They enjoyed it so much that they came back at the same time every day for a week for their playtime. Playing saved these dogs lives.

Play begins very early, the author suggests as early as in the womb, when we are kicking and moving around. Play builds neurological connections and involves our whole brain. This was proven in a study done by Marian Diamond. Her study involved the monitoring of a rats brain activity during two activities. One activity was having rats go through a maze to get a reward of some sort, the other involved rats in an enriched environment (which mostly involved playing with toys). When the rats were in the maze only one part of their brain was active, but when they played with toys their whole brain was activated and grew.

We learn to play from our parents, grandparents and friends. Play gets us ready for challenges and ambiguities we will face in the future. It teaches us about fairness and boundaries. We can learn important information like the alphabet, numbers, and other languages quicker when the content is combined with play. For example, Sesame Street has been using play to help children learn for many decades.

I work in the training field and have had to defend the usefulness of play in a training environment. This book provides evidence that play not only has a place in the training but that learning is far more effective when play is included. When I taught new hire Customer Service classes one of the most effective exercises we did was when the class was broke into two or three groups and each group created a review game. After the games were created we played and reviewed together as a group.

The one concern I did have with the book is that I was hoping for more proof, studies or evidence to back up some of the topics Dr. Brown covered. For example, I found the story of Charles Whitman very impactful. Charles was never allowed to play or do anything unstructured and eventually this led him to tragedy. I would have liked to see that more than one horrible act could be linked to lack of play. Dr. Brown also showed that new Engineers were not as good at problem solving because they did not play with their hands. I would have liked more evidence of the need for play in various industries for those hard to convince traditional executives.

Despite these concerns, I really enjoyed this book. I found myself discussing it with someone new each day when I was reading it. I believe that if you are an employer looking for ways to hire creative people, a person who wants to improve their marriage or if you have been feeling depressed and are looking to restore your joy, this is the book for you.

Erica Swiatek is a Learning and Development Consultant at Independent Health. Her background includes over ten years of experience creating and delivering both online and traditional classes. Erica has always been intrigued with how play and learning fit together to improve the learner's experience while achieving managements expectations.


barb said...

I do believe this is very, very important and let's us use our creativity and imagination....

Jay said...

Very good overview, Erica. Agree with many of the highlights you pointed out and will probably give this book it's due consideration.