5 Important Lessons About Play That You Didn’t Learn In School. By Dr. Linda Berman

50961080818_1b71152bf5_oJeff Koons – Loopy [1999] Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.”

O. Fred Donaldson


1.  Children’s Play Is Crucial To Their Development.

“The playing adult steps sideward into another reality; the playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery.”

Erik H. Erikson

9064176407_c75937796f_oMarco Marini – Alice in Wonderland [2004] Oil On Canvas. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

Play and learning, for children, are one and the same, for they learn, and play, as they live their daily lives. Therefore all their life is -or should be- play.

Can you remember how freeing play felt when you were a child?

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_Children’s_Games_-_Google_Art_ProjectPeter Breughel. Children’s Games.1560.Wikimedia Commons.

“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.”

Mr. Rogers

Play helps children’s brains develop and aids learning. It helps them be creative and dextrous, to interact with others, to learn to share, negotiate, compromise, to gain strength and resilience, both physically and psychologically.

Play makes children relaxed and happy.

32062110677_3f79bb1b10_oAlan Lowndes (1921-1978) – Amanda and Martin. Gandalf’s Gallery.Flickr.

Through play, children can master fears and develop new skills. They can use their imagination, experiment, explore and also learn to entertain and occupy themselves.

39650412582_722f4f178b_oJohn Philip Falter – Young Sammy Sixgun [1957]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

Play, for children, is discovery. Outdoor play will introduce children to flowers, trees and animals, to the whole world of nature. They will learn about change and growth, about respect, kindness, time and patience.

50099744111_b5e180fa8b_oDorothea Sharp – Children Playing Beside a Stream. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

2. Play Is Necessary And Healthy For Adults Too.

Do you play? What does play even mean in relation to adults?

“Play isn’t something separate from the daily grind of life. It is not something to finally get to when work ends. Rather, play, like music, is a force that we feel in our bones and that whispers in our heart. As kids demonstrate, play is not over there, but forever here and now.” 

Vince Gowmon

We can learn from children about play, because children are totally in the present, enjoying the moment, lost in concentration.

That is something that, as adults, we may have forgotten, and might sometimes need to regain from childhood.

Play, at any age, means having fun. It is important for adults to make time for play, and not overlook it in favour of work or responsibilities.

Joean_Honoré_Fragonard_-_The_SwingFragonard. The Swing. Wikimedia Commons.

It involves a letting go, of some fixed ways of thinking, not being too rule-bound, and having a relaxing and enjoyable experience, abandoning oneself to some carefree time-out, often with others.

There are many different kinds of play.  It can be in the form of beach and water-games, board-games, all kinds of games and sports, exploring nature, dancing, singing, acting, painting, going to a funfair, fooling around, and just being silly!

VekomaskaterAnt Farm Express at Wild Adventures, a Vekoma Roller Skater roller coaster.Wikimedia Commons.

Playing in these ways as an adult can relieve stress, releasing endorphins.

It can also help us in our relationships, to lighten up the atmosphere and break tension:

“The couples who sustain a sense of mutual playfulness with each other tend to work out the wrinkles in their relationships much better than those who are really serious.”

Sami Yenigun.

Pierre-Auguste_Renoir_-_Luncheon_of_the_Boating_Party_-_Google_Art_ProjectRenoir. Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881)Wikimedia Commons.

“Those who play rarely become brittle in the face of stress or lose the healing capacity for humor.” 

Stuart Brown, MD

Playing with children is another way of letting go of some of the often self-imposed strictures and rigidities of adult life.

“We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing.”

Charles Schaefer

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson


“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

George Bernard Shaw

The true object of all human life is play.”

G. K. Chesterton

Fear of appearing silly, or childish, when playing with children at their level, can inhibit such play.

Yet it is a great gift, to both adult and child, to engage with children, entering the child’s make-believe world, crawling on the floor, laughing hysterically at nothing.

50099168683_7f726657f8_oNorman Rockwell – Doctor and Doll [1942] Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“Children don’t need more things. The best toys a child can have is a parent who gets down on the floor and plays with them.”


3. There Is Always A Child Within Us All.

How do we understand the concept of the child within us all? 

Transactional analysis  can help to explain this. It is an approach to psychotherapy,  originated by psychiatrist Eric Berne, which views each of us as having 3 ego-states : parent, adult and child.

Counselling Directory explains these further:

  • “Parent – Rooted in the past; a set of thoughts, feelings and behaviours learnt from our parents and other important people. This part of our personality can be supportive or critical.

  • Adult – Rooted in the present; relates to direct responses in the ‘here and now’ that are not influenced by our past. This tends to be the most rational part of our personality.

  • Child – Rooted in the past; a set of thoughts, feelings and behaviours learnt from our childhood. These can be free and natural or strongly adapted to parental influences.”

symbolic-2065442_1920“We often tend to ignore how much of a child is still in all of us.”
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.

The child that we once were remains inside us all. She or he is still there, in memories, reactions, experiences. Perhaps this child partly resides in our unconscious mind.

“So, like a forgotten fire, a childhood can always flare up again within us.”

Gaston Bachelard 

6563292757_895570c941_oErin de Burca – Water [2011]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

Here are some quotations from people across the different professions, all emphasising the importance of maintaining  and developing the playful child inside us all:

“In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play.”

Friedrich Nietzsche


“Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you, ‘I’d like my crayons back, please.”

Hugh Magnus MacLeod of MacLeod

“If you want to be creative, stay in part a child, with the creativity and invention that characterizes children before they are deformed by adult society.”

Jean Piaget

“Make art. It doesn’t have to be any good. The point is to get lost in the flow of making it. And making art is NOT JUST FOR CHILDREN OR GENIUSES but for all.”

Phillipa Perry.

“No matter how old you get, may you always stop to fill your pockets with smooth stones, empty snail shells & other little treasures.”

Nicolette Sowder

4. Play, Creativity And Imagination Are At The Root Of Invention. 

When we were small, our imagination knew no bounds, and life was exciting.  If we can allow ourselves to recapture and hold on to some of that childhood wonder, it can lead to all kinds of productive activity.  

Einstein valued his imagination enormously and as he worked, he played with ideas in his head that he called ‘thought experiments.’

“Play is the highest form of research.”

 Albert Einstein

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”


  • Play Is Central To Psychotherapy.

What does ‘play’ mean in a psychotherapeutic sense?

Psychotherapy is very much about creativity and imagination, ‘playing’ with ideas, thoughts, feelings and interpretations.

“Combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.”

Albert Einstein

In the therapeutic space, the therapist is there for the patient, focussed on the patient’s needs, listening empathically.

In this accepting atmosphere, it is likely that the patient will be more able to free associate; that is, to speak whatever comes into her mind.

She will feel more able to ‘play’ and be creative, in an atmosphere of acceptance and relatively free from social anxiety.

The psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott regarded ‘playing’ in therapy as a way of discovering more about the self.

This is achieved through ‘playing’ with ideas, words, metaphors, thoughts and feelings, in a kind of absorbed, involved state, without self- consciousness.

It is a state of mind described by Winnicott as ‘desultory formless functioning.’ (Playing and Reality)

‘Psychotherapy takes place in the overlap of two areas of playing, that of the patient and that of the therapist. Psychotherapy has to do with two people playing together.’



Work And Play.

‘Work and play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions.’ 

Mark Twain

Often people associate work with stress and repetitiveness. Does it always have to feel like this? Could work somehow be reframed as play?

“Life must be lived as play.”


It is possible. Some people do find their work creative, stimulating and exciting. Absorbed in their work, they are lost in a world that feels energised and productive.

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”


47927957432_d1767599fe_oRobert Riggs – Jazz on a High Note [c.1951]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“When we engage in what we are naturally suited to do, our work takes on the quality of play and it is play that stimulates creativity.”

Linda Naiman

It appears that, because of the pandemic, more people intend to continue to work at home in the future, if their job can be adapted.

Maybe their work-life balance will change, or the work itself will become less time-bound and more stimulating. 

Who knows what changes will occur  in the way we regard work in the coming months and years after this seismic change in our day-to-day lives?

Perhaps we will be freed up to play more, without the daily commute, and we will be happier?

“The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression.”

Brian Sutton-Smith

Ford_Madox_Brown_-_Work_-_artchive.comWork (Manchester) Ford Madox-Brown (1865)Wikimedia Commons.

“This is the real secret of life—to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”

Alan W. Watts

Museo Thyssen- BornemiszaFrantišek Kupka – Syncopated Accompaniment (Staccato) [c.1928-30] Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.”

Carl Jung

49918196598_72dfbb5bbc_oMarc Chagall – Cow with a Parasol [1946] Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“Always take some of the play, fun, freedom, and wonder of the weekend into your week and your work.”
Rasheed Ogunlaru.

Play can make us feel really alive, both light-hearted and sprightly at any age.

“The main thing is to write
for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust
that imagines its haven like your hands at night
dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.
Take off from here.”

Seamus Heaney,

Could you bring more play into YOUR life? Today?

49578391322_74a665f671_oRobert Jadczak – Tango [2019]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr

“How would your life be different if…You decided to give freely, love fully, and play feverously? Let today be the day…You free yourself from the conditioned rules that limit your happiness and dilute the beautiful life experience. Have fun. Give – Love – Play!”

Steve Maraboli

©Linda Berman

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