The Power of Play

When I see children playing on the playground, I’m struck by their uninhibited joy. They jump, crawl, build, talk, and leap to their hearts’ content — in short, they embrace the power of play. And what looks simply like a world of fun is, deep down, a serious opportunity for learning.

According to the Finnish education model, emphasizing joy in early learners helps students learn naturally and retain information. Finnish teachers foster intrinsic motivation rather than statistical achievements. Kindergartners, for example, have fun during four-hour days, learning through play; they only pick up a book if they feel ready to read. Despite — or maybe because of — their emphasis on joy, Finnish students continually score highly on international tests.

We live in a society that equates hard work with success. Examples such as the Finnish education model, however, make us consider whether the power of play might have a stronger effect than we realized. Research not only shows that play contributes to learning, creativity, and strong interpersonal skills in children, but that it also is beneficial for adults.

The National Institute for Play defines play as “something done for its own sake … It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.” Play contributes to better memory, sharper thinking, and a stronger community, and it’s essential to forming and maintaining the social connections that support us as human beings.

Instead of compartmentalizing play as something that occurs outside the walls of a classroom or an office, think about play as a way of being. Go through your daily life embracing your tasks — the laundry, your emails, a business trip — for the joy of it. After all, intrinsic motivation is a stronger indicator of job performance than external motivation. As you incorporate play into your work life, you may even improve your standing at work.

Image source: 500PX