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Playing helps us grow throughout life. Sometimes adults are reluctant to play or have rusty joints on how to do so. So here are 28 activity suggestions for different kinds of play. These kinds of activities can enhance your vitality, spontaneity and foster right brain hemisphere growth. – Darcia Narvaez, PhD
I remember being envious of actress Jill Clayburgh in her role as an abandoned wife in the film An Unmarried Woman (1978). She would dance around her apartment in her underwear unselfconsciously. It’s not the half nakedness I envied but her freedom to be playful, to spontaneously enjoy her body in space.
Adults often have a hard time being spontaneously playful. For many of us, physical, bouncy play was discouraged even in childhood. The older you get, the more it is perceived to be undignified, unless you are an athlete of some sort and are involved in sports (organized play). Organized play is great for exercise and team spirit, but it’s not the same as spontaneous play.
All our ancestors come from societies where all ages spent a great deal of time having physical fun throughout the day. In these hunter-gatherer societies, people spontaneously break into song, with a song for every occasion. They frequently song-dance together, sometimes not sharing the same melody but singing polyphonically. The central African groups that carry our ancestral genes spend a great deal of time making jokes and laughing so hard they roll on the ground.
So spontaneous play is not just for kids. Spontaneous play nourishes your whole being, from growing the right brain hemisphere to building skills in getting along cooperatively instead of through domination-submission.
Just like with many skills, it can be helpful to practice on your own—like a solo at a wedding, the way you will fix your hair for the big date, what you will say to make amends with a friend. You can do the same with play. To learn to be more playful with others, you can practice being playful on your own, in the privacy of your home or room.
The 28 days of solo play are intended to help break the ice about playing as an adult. Each day you can take little actions that loosen you up. There is no right or wrong way to move. Just enjoy your body moving through space!
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spontaneity. New York: Brunner/Mazel.
Cohen, L. (2002). Playful parenting: An exciting new approach to raising children that will help you nurture close connections, solve behavior problems, and encourage confidence. New York: Ballantine Books.
Fry, D. (2014). The Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness, rough-and-tumble play, and the selection of restraint in human aggression. In D. Narvaez, K. Valentino, A. Fuentes, J.
McKenna, & P. Gray, Ancestral Landscapes in Human Evolution: Culture, Childrearing
and Social Wellbeing (pp. 167-186). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Gray, P. (2014). The play theory of hunter-gatherer egalitarianism. In D. Narvaez, K. Valentino, A. Fuentes, J. McKenna, & P. Gray, Ancestral Landscapes in Human Evolution: Culture, Childrearing and Social Wellbeing (pp. 190-213). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Lee, R. B. (2013). The Dobe Ju/’hoansi, 4 th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Lewis, J. (2013). A cross-cultural perspective on the significance of music and dance to culture and society insight from BaYaka pygmies. In M.A. Arbib (Ed.), Language, music and the brain (pp. 45-65). MIT Press.
Panksepp, J. (2007). Can PLAY diminish ADHD and facilitate the construction of the social
brain?. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 16(2), 57.
Schore, A., & Marks-Tarlow, T. (2018). How love opens creativity, play, and the arts through early right-brain development. In T. Marks-Tarlow, M. Solomon, & D. J. Siegel (Eds.), Play and creativity in psychotherapy (p. 64–91). W. W. Norton &; Company.
Smith, P.K., & Roopnarine, J.L. (2019). The Cambridge handbook of play. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Listen to Darcia Narvaez and Mary Tarsha discuss the benefits of one of our nine Evolved Nest components: PLAY. These new insights are based on recent research into play by Darcia and Mary.
Examining your childhood experiences with play can help unpack resistance you might have toward playing. Play breaks down when people become self-conscious about making mistakes, start to compete or compare, become hostile, seek power or start justifying actions. People who are addicted to praise feel insecure without praise and fearing blame (opposite of praise).
If you’re looking to replace artificial light hum, droning news reports, or monkey brain chatter with an uplifting, Earth-honoring ditty that is sure to inspire nature connection and joy, look below and pick out a tune written and performed by Darcia Narvaez, Kindred World’s president and founder of the Evolved Nest.
How To Put Fun Into Every Day. Be where you are. Kids are really good at enjoying the moment. Learn something new. From new words to new facial expressions, kids are constantly mastering new skills. Get out of your comfort zone. Find the beat. Smile a lot more often. Notice nature. Climb things. Embrace your “flaws.”
Children’s play is an essential ingredient for growing abilities of all kinds—cognitive, social, emotional, and executive (e.g., self-control of emotion, action). When children feel safe and well, they will play. Social play is about excitement and dealing with the unexpected, controlling aggression and being responsive to one’s play partner. And social play fosters happiness. Babies are ready to play socially from birth, expecting a companionship care that helps them grow optimally. But how do we play with a baby?
Humans are social mammals. Young social mammals’ lives are filled with social play as part of self-development and self-organizing around well-functioning social relationships (Burghardt, 2005). Self-directed social play is play that children organize and manage themselves, including rule making.
I [Darcia Narvaez, PhD] always knew I was playful, perhaps to a fault but I usually would not let myself go. I had all kinds of misconceptions about fun.
Here are a few tips from the experts: Think about play differently. Give yourself
permission to play every day. Take a play inventory. What did you do as a child that excited you? Make playful people part of your life. Play with children.
“Living in a playful city brings the community together with activities that focus on the young but in the case of Takoma Park, playful city programs have drawn in citizens across generations. Our playful city activities bring adults involved back to the joys of childhood and bring to our kids a sense of fun within our diverse community. Playful city programs build trust, enhance communications and strengthen community. Fun is the first part of fundamental and it is the basis of a caring and strong community. A playful city is a fun city, and who doesn’t want to have fun!”
How many times have you sat around at a gathering of family or friends watching your or someone else’s kids run in circles, roll around on the ground, and just play for hours on end without tiring? There’s probably a 99% chance that you or someone else around you made the statement “I wish I had that much energy!”. I’ve done it, as I am sure almost everyone has. But a few years ago I had a light bulb moment.
Sometimes I lounge lazily in bed, in the middle of the day, with a couple of my kids and just abandon my worldly concerns, and just play. Or I’ll sit and just watch them play, pretending they’re superheros or princesses or playing house or shooting each other with stick guns. It never fails to leave me with a sense of wonder, of pure joy, of a return to innocence and a simpler time. As grown ups, we’ve lost this childlike sense of life. And that’s actually a sad thing.
Just because we’re adults, that doesn’t mean we have to make life all about work. Learn how play can benefit your relationships, job, and mood.