Want to be more creative? How do you get started? What are the best exercises to stimulate creativity? It all sounds very serious. As it turns out, it may not be so serious after all. The basis of creativity may simply be unstructured play.
That’s the argument that the International Play Association (IPA) makes. According to the IPA white paper Children’s Right to Play, when children play, they “…rearrange their worlds to make them either less scary or less boring.” They also learn how to negotiate, the importance of rules, and a general notion of fairness. It’s not so much rehearsal for adult life (as I had thought). Rather, it’s “about creating a world in which … children are in control and can seek out uncertainty in order to triumph over it — or, if not, no matter, it is only a game.”
The IPA notes that unstructured play can enhance a child’s “…adaptive capabilities and resilience” and “changes the architecture of the brain, particularly in systems to do with emotion, motivation, and reward.” For all these reasons (and more), the IPA concludes that “… play is no mere indulgence; it is essential to children’s health and well-being.” (By the way, the IPA was established in 1961 in — where else? — Denmark. Those pesky Scandinavians again!)
Note that we’re talking unstructured play, which is different than, say, playing baseball or the piano. As Melinda Wenner points out in Scientific American, structured games “… have a priori rules — set up in advance and followed. Play, on the other hand, does not have a priori rules, so it affords more creative responses.” So, taking up all your kid’s time in sports leagues or music classes may actually impede rather than develop their creativity. It’s also important to let kids play with kids. Among other things, kids use more sophisticated language when they play with each other than when they play with adults.
That’s all well and good for kids but what about those of us who are well past our prime playing days? Wenner writes that “Adults who do not play may end up unhappy and exhausted without understanding exactly why.” How should adults play? Wenner makes three suggestions:
Wenner concludes that, “Ultimately, it’s not how you play but that you play.” So enough with this website. Let’s go out and play.
(By the way, IPA next triennial conference will be in Istanbul in 2014. Anyone want to go play?)