A dog chasing a ball.
Children playing tag.
These are examples of what is commonly understood as play. Dogs are perhaps our most unambiguous practitioners of play. They need no excuse to drop into a play bow and start the play rolling. Children in a park will enter into and exit a dozen different ways of playing in the course of an hour, creating, selecting, inventing and modifying both traditional games like tag and playful arrangements that have little or no rules beyond expressing energy, joy, and hilarity.
These expressions of play represent one window into the nature and power of play. Because they are infused with such evident joy, they tend to dominate our conceptualization of play as being joyful above all else. But play, while being a source of joy, is by no means limited to that mode of expression. Play is, at its core, not an emotional state, but an intentional space for holding uncertainty, connection and emergence. As such, play is a way of being that can be expressed in quite somber ways. We must keep in mind that the willingness to play can inform dialogues that do not, at the outset, seem “play like.”
Written in partnership with Mark Greene of ThinkPlayPartners