Mastering the Art of Play


When we were kids, our main objective in the world was to play.  We could spend hours traipsing through the outdoors, creating our own games and imagining stories we’d act out with our friends.  But somewhere along the line, that sense of play was slowly overtaken by work –schoolwork, university, careers, and family life.

According to the Google, the verb “play” is defined as “engaging in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.”  As adults, this time can feel wasted or pointless because nothing is accomplished. 

But we need to bring play back into our lives.  There’s a simplicity to the idea of play that is missing from adult life.  When we were children at play, we weren’t worried about anything other than the game or the imagined story in which we found ourselves.

There is an inherent value to engaging in play.  Play is an expression of freedom where I choose what I want to do right now and stop my play when it is no longer fun or enjoyable.  In this freedom, we experience greater creativity.  Children are encouraged to engage in play as a therapeutic technique to help them process pain and trauma they’ve experienced.

Oftentimes, play gets confused with leisure time, defined by distraction, disengagement, and emotional disconnection.  This is a sign that we’re using our leisure time to escape instead of rest.  In contrast, when you watch a child at play, you can see how engaged and curious they become in whatever exists around them, even if it seems trivial or unimportant.

Here are a few ideas to get you started on how to incorporate play in your life.

Remind yourself of how you used to play.

Over the course of time, we can lose touch with the playful spirit we had as children.  Dan Allender, in a series of podcasts on play, names a few questions to consider when you think about this topic.  What games do you enjoy playing?  What activities do you engage in that bring a sense of joy?  What did you used to play as a child that you enjoyed?

Be a kid on summer vacation again.

Think about all the ways you used to play in the summertime as a child.  What were some of the activities you loved?  Playgrounds and swings?  Exploring in the woods?  Schoolyard games?  Swimming in the lake?  Drawing with chalk?  Flying a kite?  Playing pick-up soccer or football?  Spend an afternoon doing some of these things!

Go to a museum or park designed for children and explore.

Some of my favorite memories of class field trips or family day trips involved visiting a zoo or a children’s science museum.  There was always so much to see and do, and I’d always learn something new.  Visit one of these parks or museums that you loved as a child with a curious and playful attitude.

Do a summer reading challenge.

As a lifelong book nerd, I always loved tearing through books as a kid to win a prize at our local library for amount of books read.  Many libraries have now extended the fun for adults and have broadened the ways you can earn points to include exploring the library buildings themselves, writing reviews for books, or attending library events.  I’ve joined in on the Ann Arbor District Library summer game for the past few years, which has plenty of options for fun and encourages me to attend community events I may not know about otherwise.

Throw a kid-themed party!

Friends’ birthday parties were always some of the highlights of the summer growing up.  Typically these parties involved themes, games, favors, and all the candy you could eat.  Invite your friends to a party and have a water balloon or water gun fight, get a piñata, or play children’s games like pin the tail on the donkey.

Learn from a child in your life.

Spend a day with a toddler or kid in your life, whether it’s your own child, a niece or nephew, or a friend’s child.  As you interact with them throughout the day, pay attention to how they view the world around them with curiosity and a sense of play.  Find ways to imitate that childlike spirit in your own life.


As you start to incorporate play into your life, pay attention to what emotions you feel.  You might find yourself distracted by embarrassment or shame.  You might feel silly or childish.  This is normal, especially at first, because play isn’t always encouraged in our day to day.  Observe your emotions, give yourself space to feel them, and know that the more you practice play, the more natural it becomes.

How will you begin to play this week?

This article was originally posted on June 24, 2017.


Having a playful spirit can seem difficult when you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or trauma in your life.  When these issues are present, self-care is one of the most important things you can do, but it can also be the hardest thing to practice.  I’d love to provide support for you on your journey of self-care and health.  Restored Hope is an Ann Arbor-based counseling office where I focus on helping you experience freedom from patterns that prevent you from living a wholehearted life.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear how I can help.