Do you remember how old you were when you stopped playing? Chances are it was about 13 or 14, the cusp of teenagerhood when you sometimes played with the little kids and mostly started hanging out with the adults or in your room. Playgrounds became places to hang out, rather than run around and play. Any play had to be done ‘ironically’, or online in video games. Kids come into High School and wonder where the adventure playgrounds are and six months later they are ‘hanging out’ with the best of them.
This is no bad thing. It’s a part of figuring out your growing identity.
What I think is a shame is how silly play is then often frowned on after a certain age. “Act your age”. “Don’t be ridiculous”. Every so often at school the boys (sometimes girls) start playing tag, or manhunt, or some other version of chase. Mostly this isn’t a problem (we have a big school) but when it’s the huge 17 and 18 year old guys crashing around wildly laughing and not noticing the little 12 year olds trampled underfoot then the silly police (us) have to step in.
“Aw Miss! we’re just having fun!”
“Sorry kids, not here. Take it out to the field.”
This is an age where we learn about appropriate times and places for fun. It’s a good lesson. But it is also a shame in some ways.
The playing adult steps sideways into another reality
– Erik H. Erikson
Play is really important. We know this and protect it in our children’s learning times in a way that many other historical eras didn’t, and in ways that places with less privilege can’t do to the same extent. Play does lots of good moral stuff like teaching you how to share, how to take turns, but imaginative play in particular can also teach you empathy. It can give you a chance to become someone else for a while and to explore different parts of your identity.
My youngest son likes to play on the computer a lot at the moment. I think it is something to do with the suddenly big age gap between him and the oldest, who is entering that teenagedom I spoke of before. I’ve noticed that when he gets really into whatever roblox game he’s playing (usually something to do with cars or a shop) he starts whispering to himself. I recognise this. I did it with dolls, or outside in the garden on my own. Even though the game is not a role playing game, he is creating his own world as he plays. This is the power of play for kids, but also for adults.
There are adult based play activities available – such as the escape room, paintball, laser tag. But play doesn’t have to be based around those things. Play can simply be being silly.
And silly is important.
We have a staff fun day out every year where we do fun activities – things like mini golf, beach cricket, caileigh dancing, and on one memorable occasion we did zorb soccer. I get claustrophobic and hated not being able to see people behind me knocking me down, but being part of a group and running around and (KEY THING) being ridiculously SILLY made me incredibly happy. You bounce off other people’s happiness (in this instance quite literally) and it forms stronger connections and boosts your own morale.
One of the things I love most about my colleagues is their level of silly. I best say here that silly doesn’t interfere with professionalism, it doesn’t affect at all the way you do your job. In fact, if anything, I’d argue it makes you more able to do your job well. Nerf gun battles. Ambushes. Kazoo duck quacking. Making posters of each other and ‘decorating’ desks. Singing. Dumb jokes. All this silliness creates an atmosphere where happiness happens and people feel positive about where they are. We become friends, not just workmates. Laughter releases stress. Students come in to hand in work and then say later ‘Your department always seems so happy. I like going in there.”
What matters to me is not that this helps people to be better workers (which I believe it does) but that it helps us to be happier people, it lifts our wellbeing.
When you’re a parent, or are around kids, and they want to play with you, sometimes it’s just not the right time, or you’re tired, or you just want to have time to yourself. But when you play, when you really play and unleash your silly, magic can happen. My sons recruited me to play in their nerf war. I wasn’t that keen but said yeah okay. Then a little tendril of silly came out. I became a double agent and ‘stabbed’ one boy in the back then stole his gun. The expression on my kids’ faces when they realised that mum was playing along with them was worth all the missed feet up coffee in hand time in the world. Being around kids does give you an excuse to be silly. You can start singing a screechy song and do silly actions and you’ve got an excuse. You can change every fourth word in a story book to ‘fart’ at bedtime reading and you’ve got an excuse (yes I did this, yes their reactions were everything you would most desire, and yes it went on waaay too long). The point is, when we can do that silly for ourselves and let other people be silly even if they are ‘grown up’ I reckon we can be happier.
There’s a group of writers on Twitter with whom I have long hilarious gif filled conversations (you can find them on #WriteFightGifClub should you so desire). They are the epitome of silly. They’re also incredibly supportive and generous with knowledge and very talented people, but the reason people keep being drawn into their vortex is the silly. You can play act and take on roles and voices and it’s like a big improv or kids playground romp. It made me realise how important that silly is to me and how much it helps me with everything else in my life.
Adulting is hard. It is full of bills, cats who don’t like the cheap catfood, rushing, oh my goodness always rushing to school to work to home to appointments to gym to socialising. It is full of chores. It is not full of sleep. It is not always full of fun. I know no-one said life had to be all about having fun but man, when you think about it – if we get 90 odd years to be on this planet and only in 12 of them do we get to be silly and have fun whenever, well that seems like a big waste to me.
Silly helps the adulting go down. It’s a lot easier to cope with all the grown up demands if you get to have time to play as well, whatever form that play takes.
So this week, think about what you want to do to introduce some playtime into your life and let your silly out!