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Why We Need to Play

January 19, 2020

When play imitates work.

Another Way for week of January 17, 2020

Play: Well-rounded People

[Editor’s note: Second of a ten-part series on physical, mental, relational, and spiritual health. #KashiActionVerbs]]

Last week our topic was Rise and this week it’s Play. As adults, we don’t often think of those items in the same breath but of course that is the first thing many children think of when they get up in the morning, as it should be.

Early childhood teacher and Mennonite author Alta Mae Erb wrote long ago, “Play is a child’s work.” I’m sure she got that thought from psychologist Jean Piaget who put it “Play is the work of childhood.” The beloved children’s television program host Fred Rogers added, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.”

Toys all put away, and then. Someone wakes up.

When our grandchildren are at our house, most of them enjoy getting out toys first thing in the morning even though they had to be cajoled for ten minutes to help put them away the night before. (Well, one who wakes up more slowly, prefers to sprawl in a chair or on Grandma or Grandpa’s lap for a while. Nice.) But overall, for a child, play is the thing to do when you get up, even if you should be getting dressed or ready for school.

Even babies should be played with from Day One. As you engage their eyes to coax the first smile, or conduct a quick game of peekaboo, the child is playing and learning.

Early morning play in pajamas.

A children’s book, When a Boy Wakes Up in the Morning (Alfred Knopf, Inc., 1962) by Faith McNulty, digs into the dilemma for a child. The child knows and remembers that his mother or father reminded him not to wake them up when they want to sleep in. Mother says, “Jamie, do not call me when you wake up. Don’t hammer on your blocks or on the floor. Don’t hammer on your cars or trucks.” But of course, that’s exactly what Jamie wants to do in the morning. He doesn’t disobey his mother, but when he decides to build a tower with his blocks and they fall down making a clattering noisy sound, he can’t help it, can he? His mother comes in, not smiling. But the boy is smiling because now he is no longer lonely. (And as the book says, soon she is smiling too.)

As adults, we don’t think of play as part of our work but indeed it should be a priority in our lives. How do we play? By doing things we don’t have to do, but enjoy doing. Sometimes we have to push ourselves to play: to pick up a book just for fun, take a quick walk, join a friend for lunch. Are these things play? Yes. If we’re heading to a gym or basement for some exercise, we need to tell ourselves it’s not a workout, it’s a playdate.

Attend a concert, walk the dog, go for a swim, stroll through a museum—anything you truly enjoy doing. Watch TV? Well, maybe that’s play, but we probably need to be encouraged to go beyond looking at a smart phone or resorting to “entertainment” that doesn’t make us do anything but sit there.

Play is art, books, movies, music, comedy, flirting and daydreaming, writes Dr. Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play. What, there’s an institute for play? I guess some of us need to be taught that a game of cards, arranging flowers, fiddling with photography—or a fiddle—all of these constitute play for adults. Play can be taking a nap, listening to a podcast, even trying a new recipe.

Admittedly, when you are working full time, raising a family, engaged in church or other civic activities—play has low priority. But, the secret is mindset: have your brain and life open to finding just minutes of fun or diversion as you can grab them. You can boost your spirit from drudgery to dancing—in the head or heart. And recharge your spirit!

So, we rise. We need to play. Next week we’ll take on the word “spark.” I hope these explorations of how to have better physical and mental health will challenge and encourage you.


As an adult, what is your fav form of play? What did you love to do as a child?


How do you make play or recreation a priority (find time for it) in your life now?

Comments here or write to me at or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  





  1. I liked the ‘Conversations With God’ books by Neale Donald Walsch. They expand the view of God. He noted the trinity of life. We conceive, create, experience continuously, endlessly. When it’s enjoyable, it’s play. Lucky are those whose avocation is their vocation.

    Nick Russian

  2. I am a preschool teacher so I get to witness play every day! Sometimes I have the opportunity to briefly join in. As an adult, I like games like Scrabble and I like to write stories so I ‘play’ with characters and plot lines.

    • Cynthia, love this! As a grandma of several preschoolers, I thank God for teachers like you. Writing stories and playing with characters and plot lines: nice description. Best to you in that realm as well. Thanks for commenting.

      • You’re welcome. I hope you will stop by my blog some time. You might enjoy some of my posts 🙂

      • I popped over there, signed up for your email newsletter. I love the cover on The Lullaby Monsters. Have a great day!

      • Oh thank you! Hope you have a great day too.

  3. I remember Alta Mae Erb from Christian Living magazine; it’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen her name in print. Thanks for mentioning her, Melodie.

    As you know, I get play time with preschoolers at church each Sunday. My grands now play soccer, the tuba, video games and run track, not exactly your theme here.

    Thanks too for the reminder to play more, which translates as dawdling in my way of thinking. 🙂

    • Dawdling=play, yes! Running track, not so much. However, a mile walk around our acreage suits me just fine for Sunday afternoon play. To each their own!

  4. I love this subject, Melodie. One of the great joys of being a grandparent is the opportunity to get down on the floor again, remember, our own childhoods, and really savor any activity with grandchildren. They turn anything into play!

  5. Glad this brought to mind fun joys for you, too. My husband doesn’t do so good getting down on the floor, but he was delighted this past weekend to entertain two grandsons who now get a kick out of playing “in a pickle” with him. He entwines their little legs or arms in light pins (as in wrestling) as he sits or lays on the couch, and holds them while they try to free themselves. They had been too young and too frustrated to understand this game while younger, but now they welcome it. As their mothers did also, long ago. 🙂 Not a game I ever played with them, but Daddy’s/Grandaddy’s game.

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