Column is a monthly feature that follows the lives
of creative people and explores the world of creativity.
Play: Being Creative
de Sousa, Director, AbleStable
is often viewed as a pastime that is more for enjoyment
and diversion rather than an activity of any significance.
For many however, play is an ongoing and crucial
element that is at the heart of their identity.
play is more difficult than at first meets the eye.
When my five year old son asks 'can we play?', his
request appears simple. However, understanding what
Play is takes some hard thinking. As well as taking
a stab at defining play myself, I've provided a
few additional definitions from others below.
So here goes:
Play is the pleasure of a process that is active,
self determined, and self controlled.
Play may be solitary or with others, may or may
not use materials, often develops motor skills and
movement memory, involves repetition and discovery,
is open to develop in anyway, is a context of self
expression, and is secure and free from personal
conflict. Play does not produce a product, and there
is often no purposeful goal. Play may be verbal
In play we leap from idea to idea in a free manner
that no other context provides. Play encourages
the spark that ignites creativity.
My son is aware that for many adults, play appears
a tiresome activity that children eventually 'grow
out of'. But for now, play is the most pleasurable
activity in his life, and like most children (and
like many adults), he wants to play all the time.
In common with other animals, play forms a part
of our world from a very early age.
The first kinds of play activities are cyclical.
An infant may repeatedly drop a toy from their pushchair
and observe the adult's ever growing frustration
as they pick it up. Later, toddlers move to fantasy
play, recasting personal experiences and their understanding
of the world in symbolic form using toys.
Through play, children learn to symbolize and elaborate
their own experience and understanding of the world,
and their place in it.
I wonder why so many drift away from play as they
enter adulthood. Psychologists and academics often
put forward the notion that play is a childlike
activity, and that as we grow older we more readily
desire aims that cannot be achieved through play
alone. As the production and exchange of goods and
services becomes increasingly important in our day
to day existence, so the status of play is demoted.
There are however people who continue to play throughout
their lives. Some find a socially acceptable context
for their desire for ongoing play. Musicians play.
The advantage for them is that others perceive and
enjoy their music as a product of their play. For
many musicians however, it is the act, the process
of playing that is of most importance to them. Other
people who play but do not produce a product through
their play are most often viewed as time wasters
as their aimless play activities appear to do little
to contribute towards their adult world.
Play is a vital element of creativity, and creativity
should be a part of all our lives. Those who are
open to exploring their world and developing their
play freely, travel along often unexpected but deeply
The child is right when they see an adult as either
fun, or as no fun at all. An adult who is fun to
know from a child's perspective is defined by their
ability and willingness to play. Are you fun, or
no fun at all?
Further Definitions of Play
Collins English Dictionary:
Play: to occupy oneself in (a sport or diversion),
to amuse oneself in (a game).
Game: an amusement or pastime
Amusement qualifies both play and game. The word
amuse is defined as:
Amuse: to keep pleasantly occupied; entertained;
of play are "flexibility, non literality, positive
affect, intrinsically motivated" (Krasnor &
Add to the above list a preoccupation with means
to a goal rather than the end in itself and remove
intrinsic motivation (Smith, Takhvar, Gore, &
Some play activities are marked by inflexibility,
involuntary actions, and portrayal of negative affect,
which negates the above list of characteristics
(Sutton-Smith & Kelly-Byrne, 1984).
Play is intrinsically motivated, concerned with
means rather than ends, is child-directed, nonliteral,
free from externally dictated rule structures, rules
that do exist can be modified by players, and requires
active engagement of players (Rubin, Fein, &
"An activity with or without materials in which
bodily movement is an end in itself (Buhler, 1935)."
"A special from of violating fixity (Bruner,
Animal play is "persistent manipulative or
locomotor experimentation with objects, with the
environment, with one's own body, and/or with other
organisms (Fagan, 1976)."
Provisional definition of play is "behaviour
formally resembling optimal learning by experimentation
but not serving immediate adaptive goals such as
maintenance, survival, or reproduction (Fagan, 1976)."
"Optimal generic learning by experimentation
in a relaxed field (Fagan, 1976)."
Free self-expression for the pleasure of expression
The natural unfolding of the germinal leaves of
The motor habits and spirit of the past persisting
in the present (Hall).
Instinctive practice, without serious intent, of
activities which will later be essential to life
Activities not consciously performed for the sake
of any result beyond themselves (Dewey).
The aimless expenditure of exuberant energy (Schiller).
Superfluous actions taking place instinctively in
the absence of real actions.... Activity performed
for the immediate gratification derived without
regard for ulterior benefits (Spenser).
Activity in itself free, aimless, amusing, or diverting
A type of play directed at the maintenance of joy
An instinctive form of self-expression and emotional
escape value (Dulles).
Highly motivated activity, which, as free from conflicts,
is usually, though not always, pleasurable (Curti).
Types of Play
Practice play; Symbolic play; Games with rules
Functional play; Constructive play; Dramatic play;
Games with rules
Parten (1932) Categories of social participation:
Unoccupied; Solitary; Onlooker; Parallel; Associative;
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