PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Anna Brown. Hi, Anna!
ANNA: Hey, Pam.
PAM: This month in the Living Joyfully Network, our theme has been Play and we have been having a lot of fun playing with it. Play is integral to learning both about the world and about ourselves. So, I’m really excited to dive into this with you today.
ANNA: Yay! Me, too.
PAM: For our first topic of discussion …
I wanted to dive into just how play and learning weave together, because a playful environment really is so conducive to learning.
In play, children naturally place themselves where the challenge of the activity and their skill are closely matched. Because if the activity is too easy, they get bored and they move on. And if it’s too hard, they’re apt to become frustrated or anxious and also want to move on. So, not only is that where they have the most fun, where they’re choosing to play, it’s also where great learning happens. And that’s because they’ve chosen the activity. They’re interested and engaged and more likely to get into the flow of it.
That’s where their curiosity to try things out and the immediate feedback from their choices weave together to make learning connections right, left, and center. And not to mention that, when they’ve chosen this play, there’s lots of intrinsic motivation, which helps them keep going to try different things when something doesn’t work as anticipated.
And that’s another thing that’s so interesting about play. While the motivation is fun and engagement, that doesn’t mean it’s always literally fun. I imagine most parents have seen their kids want to keep playing something even when things get challenging or frustrating. Because when they’re playing, they’re learning. Full stop. Does that make sense?
ANNA: Yes. I mean, I just think play is so critical to learning. Experimentation leads to discovery and play is a form of experimentation. So, I think we have this idea. We know that. But then we realize in practice, yes, that’s what play is. Toying around with things, figuring things out. And it starts young.
What happens when I drop this object off the high chair? That’s experimentation. And as children come across new concepts, you’ll see it come out in their play as they try to make sense of it and master things. And that’s what you’re talking about.
And thinking about trying to master something, I remember Raelin doing a forward walk over. Holy heck, did we hit the ground a lot of times when we were trying to do that. But it was fun and play to her and it was serious and not always fun. And sometimes she was frustrated and sometimes mad, but it was playing to master something that she found important at the time.
And these can be concrete ideas, they can be emotions, they can be physical challenges, they can be interpersonal pieces. It’s amazing what we’re discovering about all the things that are involved in play.
Early on in my journey, I heard this quote from Fred Rogers and he said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning, but for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” And it just really stuck with me and helped me prioritize space and time for play. And I think it also helped me not go to a place of judgment.
In my childhood, not so much from my parents, but from school and society and outside of school, school or work was the priority. And play was a “nice to have” if there was leftover time. And now, I know that play is everything. And from there, everything else flows, including learning, growth, and even productivity, something that I feel like I was falsely told was just a result of quote “the hard work”, the drudgery work. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
So, understanding the role play has in our lives, the potential, the gifts of it, can just shift so many things.
PAM: I love that, Anna. I love that quote and I can see that it’s such a helpful transitional piece. Because I love how he talks about how play is really the work of childhood, because, as you said, work is valued so much more than play. So, we really need to tell people, this play really is work, because people are just so caught up in that productivity cycle in that we need to do all the hard things and work. So, we’re going to talk about that a little bit more later, but I just wanted to plant that seed. I like that.
The other piece of play, again, is because play is fun, play is our relaxed time, play is recreation, we are less apt to try to control our children’s play than in other moments. And that just naturally lets them have more choice as they’re moving through their play. And having choice in those moments, even when things start to get frustrating, is really, really valuable, because then they have the choice to keep going. They have the choice to pause. They have the choice to move on to something else. It is so valuable for us not to be micromanaging.
And that is the great piece about play is that we naturally do let it unfold a little bit more naturally. So, that is super helpful for them. And so, what we can do instead, because with unschooling, we’re not talking about, let’s leave them to play. But we can be part of it. We can be there. We can be supportive. We can hold the space for them, especially in those frustrating moments where they’re trying to process and figure out what’s going on, how they want to move through it. That’s all super valuable learning, too, as part of their play.
And they will find their way really quickly back to the fun. That’s one thing that always surprised me. Something that we absorbed growing up is that things that go wrong are bad. They’re not just messages like, “Oh, that didn’t work. I’m going to move in this direction.” And when something went wrong, I’d be like, “Oh my gosh. They’re going to be so upset forever, because that thing didn’t work out the way they expected.”
But when I held space for them, they could switch quickly, figure out where they wanted to go next, and keep going. So, it is so helpful for us not directly trying to control their play or trying to nudge them in certain directions. Letting it unfold is a really valuable aspect of it.
ANNA: Yeah. And even not putting that weight on it. I know you probably said that internally, but I think sometimes we can say out loud, “Oh my gosh! That must be so terrible that that didn’t work out,” but no. Leave space for them, because they often do not have the baggage about that. Often, it’s like, “Oh, that didn’t work. I’m going to do it differently next time.” And so, that really taught me a lot. And I know you and I have talked about that before.
And I think one of our really important roles in supporting them is carving out the time and space for it, that prioritizing. And, for me, that Fred Rogers quote did help me get to that place of prioritizing it until I learned even more. It just helped me with that first bit, because I think it takes time to get into the flow with play or with anything else. And when we’re interrupting the flow, it’s really short-circuiting the learning that’s happening, because we don’t know how that’s working. But flow, again, takes some time.
Having the space to see where things go, to move through the disappointments, time and space for that, to pivot and start again, like you were just saying. These are important concepts and they’re tools that we take with us forward in life. So, that’s been fascinating for me to see how that developed in my children through their play and how now in their twenties, it’s serving them in other ways.
And I also think it’s about listening and connection, because we talk about connection every single time. When we’re keeping connection in the forefront, we know our children. We know what they love. We know what they’re exploring. And we can think of things to put in their path and see what sparks. And, because we have this strong connection, we can survive when we get it wrong sometimes, because not everything we put in their path is going to be a hit. But if we’re connected and not putting expectations or attachment on it, it’s just more learning, just like we were talking about. It’s just a pivot. It’s like, okay. That didn’t work. That wasn’t something that sparked. We’ll move on. There’s no attachment to how that plays out.
And I think the other piece, too, that you’re talking about, this interplay, it’s finding ways that we can be involved with the play and how that works.
And something we’ve learned on the Network this month is how individual play is. I found that fascinating, that what is play to one person is absolutely not to another. And so, I’ve personally struggled with pretend play, but what I could do was provide an environment for my kids to pretend play, whether I’m creating costumes or helping them build a fort or a set of something that they’re wanting to do. And then, I could find the things that I could play at, which was cards or art projects or reading. Those were things that I felt like I could be more directly involved with and do for long periods of time. But I could play that supporting role in the things that didn’t fit me as well.
So, I really think we can toy with those ideas, thinking about how we can be involved and supportive, even when it doesn’t necessarily fit.
PAM: Yeah. I love that.
That’s a great way to dive into our second topic, which is ways to support and engage with our kids and their play.
There’s one aspect that I wanted to point out, too, which is that, certainly when we’re newer to unschooling, we can feel like we want to set up a really awesome learning environment. And play is the work of childhood, so we just want to set this up perfectly. And we want to set it up and we want our kids to come in and get to their work of play.
But, as you said, it’s really more about cultivating that time and that space for them without the attachment and the expectation on it. Even if it doesn’t attract their attention or we thought they would play longer and they’d stopped doing it, it’s really about not taking that personally. It’s more information for us, so that we can help support them moving on. It’s like, oh, okay. Not that. How about this? Let’s try this.
And I think one of the things that’s really helpful, when we think about how we can support them in the moment, as you were talking about, sometimes they want to play with us. And we’re engaged with them. We are playing. Sometimes they’re directing us. Sometimes we’re just all getting into the flow of the game together. But sometimes, it’s more helpful for us to just be nearby. Again, we’re not talking about separating, like, “You go off and play and I’ll go off and do my things.” What we can do when we’re nearby is we can unobtrusively fill in the needs of play. That’s what we were talking about with the supplies and bringing things in.
I remember I used to have puppets here or I would grab things for them as they came up with ideas. And you can help them stay in the flow more easily when you are nearby to notice what’s going on.
And I think that’s another thing we talk about in the dance of our relationships and just unschooling in general. And that is just a beautiful example of how we can support play and just participate in that dance of the day with them.
Another interesting thing to think about if we are coming at it thinking we need to set up this play environment for them, set up this learning environment ahead of time, then it is being driven by us. We need to be cognizant of that, because what’s really valuable for play and for learning is for the child to be bubbling up what’s interesting for them, because that’s where their mind is. That’s where they’re super curious about the thing.
And if we keep redirecting them, as we’ve been talking about, because we’ve set up this wonderful setup. “Look at all these Legos we set up for you here! And here’s the directions. And we really should sit down and, and follow them and do the thing.” But we can set up environments as inspiration. We’ve talked before about how sometimes it’s really nice to just clean the space up. Toys away, clean it up. It’s a whole new space for inspiration when they come in.
But when we notice that we’re being maybe triggered a little bit about, “Oh, why aren’t you doing this? Oh, no, you should use it this way,” That’s a great clue for us to kind of step back and just think about the environment that we’re trying to cultivate, that we really want the time and the space for them to do what is interesting to them. That is the most important aspect of it. Isn’t it?
ANNA: Right. I mean, I think it’s so important to just not take their play on as your job, because of exactly what you’re saying. It makes it about you and about your expectations and kids are going to play, period. If given the space and time, they’re going to find ways to interact with their environment and play no matter what’s in that environment.
And so, this is not something to carry as a weight or “have-tos” definitely. Play with your involvement. Watch your kids. They’re going to lead the way with those pieces. And I think we just wanted to get that across, because sometimes, especially when you’re new to unschooling, you’re just carrying a lot of weight about, I gotta do this right. I don’t want to let my kids down. And it’s really more about just watching them, seeing how it bubbles up from inside of them, and not putting your expectations on that.
And the clean canvas, I think, is something to just mention specifically, because that helped me when I was feeling like, whew, we’ve had a lot of play going on. And sometimes they wanted to keep the scenes out for a long time, because they would revisit and add new things and whatever. But sometimes, they were kind of done and it was just taking up space.
And so, I could just lovingly and joyfully straighten that space and then they would come in. And sometimes they’d be helping me with it or sometimes it would be a surprise. But it’s like, whoa! Now we’ve got all our tools out again and we can start creating new things. So, that was just a fun way to have that fun energy around cleaning up the spaces, because you could see these new masterpieces bubbling up after that clean canvas was created.
PAM: And there was something you mentioned this month that I wanted to be sure to bring up, too, because we talk about having that time and space. And so, it is a valuable thing to do to periodically look at our schedules.
If we’re starting to feel like a little bit overwhelmed, see if we’re feeling a little bit over-scheduled, because if you don’t have that open time to let things unfold, if you’re always feeling like, “Okay, you can play for the next hour and then we’ve got to do this,” that can really get in the way too.
ANNA: And it can kind of sneak up on you. We would find that it’s like, “Oh, well, we’re going to do the parks on Thursday with some friends.” And then, “Oh, but this opportunity came up for this thing on Tuesdays.” And then suddenly, a few weeks in, you’re realizing, we’ve got something every day. And do we want something every day? And for my girls, they really didn’t. I mean, they could do it, but then we needed a lot of downtime. And I felt like they didn’t have that unfolding.
So, we would definitely try to keep days for just unfolding. Where is it going to go? We don’t have things weighing on us. We can just let the day unfold. And then we enjoyed those other scheduled activities, too, but it’s just keeping it in your mind and realizing that it can kind of sneak up on you.
PAM: Yeah. One other piece that I wanted to touch on, too, is how we can find ourselves more in observer mode when our kids are playing, like, they’re playing away. We’re going to watch. And we’re curious about it and we’re watching what they’re doing and we’re thinking, oh, we can bring this, et cetera.
But really, we can learn so much and just have so much fun and connection with our kids when we actually join them in the play. And sure, there may be things to process, but we can always process them later and they don’t need to be in the moment.
And it reminds me of Anne Ohman’s wonderful mantra, “Get out of your head and into the moment,” because when we’re in observer mode, we’re a step up, a step disengaged from the moment.
And I wanted to share a really cool quote from Bernie De Koven. “Fun is easy. It’s wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you’re sensing, you’re thinking. It’s between you and the person you’re with or the machine you’re using or the table you’re sitting at or the path you’re walking down. It’s not something to strive for, but something to melt into, to sink into, to open up to. Fun isn’t the hard thing. The hard thing is letting yourself have it.”
That was one of those light bulb moments for me. It’s like, oh yeah. I keep stepping back a little bit, stepping back a little bit, playing that observer mode of, I’m going to be supportive. I’m going to figure out what they need next. But so often, what they really wanted next was me with them. And that I could have fun. That was another layer of peeling back. It wasn’t all about helping my kids have fun. It was, oh gee, I can do this too. And I can be having fun with them.
Back to what we were talking about before, how we are, “work first, play second”. Are we really just allowed to have fun? Can we just do that, have fun? Yes! This is your permission. Yes. It’s not about putting expectations about play on ourselves. It’s just being open to how things unfold and being involved.
It’s not putting pressure on ourselves, like, “Oh, I must play with them for X hours a day,” or anything like that, but maybe we join them in their play. Maybe we play something that we enjoy alongside them. Maybe we’re playing something that we like and they come and join us. Maybe we bring out the art supplies. Maybe we want to paint. Maybe we want to sketch and they come and join us. So, it’s not that play has to be one way. It’s not all focused on the kids.
When we start opening up and looking at play from our own perspective, that brings yet another whole layer into the interaction. It shows the value of play for everyone.
ANNA: Right. And that’s just that example of play and we’re all playing. And I think play helps everybody.
I think something that you just said a few minutes ago sparked to me, just looking at some of those choices in the moment, because I think even just the work of the home that we can classify as, “Oh, I’ve got to get this done.” And then maybe you get a bid for connection from your kids to play Mario Kart or to do something else. And you’re like, “Ugh, but I’ve got to unload the dishwasher,” or whatever.
Just start to look at those little things and think, huh. Yeah. I can go engage in this play. The dishes are going to wait. Or we can figure out, I want to do this. Let’s do this together. And then let’s come back and do those dishes. Just look at ways and choices to prioritize fun and that flow for all of you. And I think then that just sets a tone and an energy for your family about how we enjoy playing together. We enjoy being together. And we can get these other things done, too.
Look at your priorities, because, again, I think those were just messages in my head, especially early on in my journey. “Get the things done and then you can play.” And I could see myself handing that idea over to them and creating this environment. And so, it was intentional work I did to say, “No. I’m going to prioritize being together and having fun and connecting. And then we will get all the other stuff done.” It gets done.
PAM: It really does. It really does.
And one last thing that I found so interesting for myself, when I was playing with the kids, when I was doing it out of an expectation that I should be doing it, oh my gosh, it was draining. I was exhausted by the time I finished playing with them. I was starting to look for my out. “Oh, you know? Yeah. I really should get to the dishes now.” But I did my play piece.
Yet when I had made that shift and realized I was choosing to play with them versus doing it as an expectation, it was so much easier for me to just sink into it, as Bernie was talking about. I could sink into it. I could get into the flow. And at the end of it, I was re-energized so often. It was just a lightness I felt the whole play with them.
That was the amazing difference of my mindset shift. From going into it with an expectation that I have to do this or choosing to do this and leaning into having fun with it. It was like night and day at the end of it, because I felt heavy or drained, or I felt light and more excited and ready for the next thing that was coming up. So, I just found that really interesting.
ANNA: I agree. I love it. Me, too.
Now I’d love to talk about how play is a wonderful way to develop self-awareness and to process emotions.
This is another aspect that I really love, because play is naturally a window through which we gain self-awareness. We explore who we are. Kids are learning so much about themselves through play, which includes tons of practice making choices, seeing how those choices play out, incorporating their experience next time.
Play is also a wonderful way to discover the things that we like to do, how we find the things we love doing so much that we’re willing to work through those hard challenges. Playing with the different ways to work through those frustrations, to figure out what kind of tools work for us and it includes exploring our bodies and our physical self-awareness through play. There are just so many aspects of playing where we’re learning so much about ourselves, right?
ANNA: Oh my gosh. I mean, I feel like this is so important.
I’ve worked with children in various capacities over the years and creating space for them to play and process emotions led to so many wonderful connections and breakthroughs. It’s so much easier to work through our tough emotions and process something that maybe we’ve witnessed in person that we’ve watched on TV through stuffed animals or a sand table or even physical exercise. Even as adults, you’ll see a lot of people gravitate towards, “I’m going to take a run, I’m going to do something physical when I have something to process.”
So, this is just a tool of humanity, of how we can move through things. And play gives children a chance to try on different sides of a problem, to walk through the different solutions that might be in front of them, to feel out, “How do I feel about these different situations? How do I feel about playing the different roles?” And all of these are such critical steps to learning and for learning how we want to express our emotions and how that feels.
And another thing I wanted to touch on was I think that sometimes we come into play that we feel is darker or we don’t understand it’s angsty music or a fighting game or it’s something along those lines and we want to stop it basically. We’re feeling a little uncomfortable and we want it to stop.
But if we can hold the space to participate if they want us there or to be a sounding board, to especially just be a presence without judgment, it opens up for these deeper connections and understanding. If we’re coming at something with judgment or wanting to stop it, that person’s either going to shut down, at least away from us, and take their activity over here where we can’t see it.
Instead, if we can be this open, non-judgmental space, they can do that next to us. And so, when they’re exploring some maybe darker feelings or darker emotions or trying to understand some of these things they’re hearing in music or on a show, when they can do that with us, again, that makes it feel lighter, more connecting. It allows them to then process with us so they can get information.
I never wanted to create an environment where they couldn’t bring those darker things to me. So, just think about that sometimes when you’re trying to shut down stuff, it’s really just a disconnection. And we’d much prefer to be connected when someone’s exploring darker topics or bigger emotions or more volatile emotions.
And that reminded me, there was a Network member who shared recently that she was binge watching this heist show and she was reflecting on, “Why am I so into this show?” She was just loving it and watching, watching, watching, watching. And she was like, first, I don’t want to rob a bank.
And then, she was saying that she realized that she loved the camaraderie of the group that was planning the heist. And she realized that that was something that had been missing for her over the last year or so, for a lot of us. And she also liked the excitement of the planning and the doing of what was happening in the show. And she realized she was craving some of that.
And what was so cool was that, then she realized, okay, with that understanding, there were concrete steps she took to bring some more of this into her life. And it was so interesting seeing how she reflected on that and then was able to tease through what was happening. And she also mentioned, which I think was really important, that by seeing her own process with this one show, she could see how her children can be getting way more out of the shooting game or the fighting game than first meets the eye. It’s not about the surface-level piece.
And I think it’s important to point out that we’re not always going to know what someone else is getting out of a show. They may not even know. And certainly, they may not be able to articulate it. But we can trust that they’re working through something or exploring, which pretty much always leads to growth and better understanding ourselves. That’s the space we can hold for them.
And I just loved all her insights about that.
PAM: Yes. Yes. That is such a lovely, lovely example. When we do the work, so often deschooling is all about us. But it’s those pieces of work that help us realize that that can be happening for our kids, too. And that’s where we can start to really lean into the trust. Even if we don’t know what it is, certainly not expecting them to be able to articulate something.
But yeah, when things come in, whether it’s a shooter game or some show or angsty music, as you were saying, whatever it is, we can jump with fear to the future. It’s like, “Oh my gosh. Something’s totally wrong. They’re going to become this bank robber,” or whatever it is. And it is just so valuable for us to realize, this is processing or this is about something on the side of that but they’re exploring it through this window.
The trust that they are figuring something out is the best place to start. And then, over time, through conversations, there’s a good chance, looking back as she did, you’ll see, oh, it was this. Oh, they loved this aspect of it.
I talk so much about Joseph’s love for video games and it wasn’t for months or even a couple of years of seeing the video games that he chose that I finally discovered that, at the root, he loved the story aspect of the games. So, then in figuring that out, I could bring better choices and suggestions, instead of continuing to suggest this soccer game or sports game or even the shooter games. Those kinds of things just weren’t as interesting to him as the story-based RPG role-playing games. So, it is just so fascinating what can be underneath our play.
And when you give play the space to bubble up, then we can process what’s bubbling up for us. Instead of trying to top-down fix things, let things bubble up and trust that they’re bubbling up for a reason, even for ourselves.
I know for me, things bubble up for me and then I’m like, oh, okay. I really want to do this. And I do it. And it’s not for six, 12 months that I realize how it was connected, the thread. Looking back, now I can really see what I was trying to do, but if I had waited until I figured that out, I might not ever have gotten there. It wasn’t until I had the experience that I could figure out what I was looking for out of it.
She let herself continue binge-watching. You’re not going to figure it out right away, but the things that you’re drawn to and the things that our kids are drawn to, trusting that in their play is just so valuable.
ANNA: There’s a reason.
There’s a reason we’re drawn to something and we can just follow that to its natural end. And then you’re going to pivot to other things, but just trusting that process. Like you said, looking back, it’s so much easier to see, but in that moment, our task is just to trust and to move forward and just see where it goes.
I’m pretty sure people have picked this up from our conversation so far, but I wanted to specifically dive into the idea of how we define play, because certainly coming in, it’s really just about how kids play. They have toys. They play games. That’s what kids do, but it is so interesting to play with the idea of how we define play.
One of the definitions that I came across that I found really interesting was, “to engage in an activity for enjoyment and recreation, rather than for a serious or a practical end goal.” That’s the work piece, right?
To explore play, I think it can be really helpful to ask yourself some questions, like, what comes to mind when you first think of play? Is it outside? Is it exploring nature? Or is it a physical activity? Is it toys, board games, sports? What pops into your head? And then to explore what else could it be? Is it reading, video games, watching TV, or YouTube videos? What are different forms of play for you? Do you value some over others?
And I just wanted to go through a few kinds of play.
- Parallel play, we talked a little bit about. It’s when we’re playing side by side maybe with other adults, with our children, but not specifically together. And this can be such an open-ended and relaxed time, certainly when your kids are older, for conversations to bubble up and flow. It’s just setting the scene, relaxed side-by-side play. For Lissy and I, Bananagrams is our side-by-side game. I know we’re playing together, but basically we’re each creating our own word set. So, it has always been, for us, something that’s really, really fun and allows conversations to just bubble up and flow.
- There’s cooperative play, where we’re playing together to reach the same goal. I know over the years we have come to love cooperative games, like Forbidden Island and Hanabi and The Mind. So, that’s something that we’ve always enjoyed.
- Competitive play are games where there’s a winner, though especially when our kids were younger, I know we found it very helpful to loosen up on the rules, to realize that the play was more important than declaring a winner and it didn’t really matter who won in the end. And playing with the rules, that was a whole other aspect that was just so fun to discover.
- Role playing. We’ve mentioned that a couple of times, too, from children having fun, with play kitchens, just role-playing whatever they see going on in their life around them, to older kids and adults who engage in cosplay and LARPing, which is live action role playing. It’s everywhere when we’re looking for it.
- Imaginative play, where we’re pretending to be other things or people. Making up scenarios, maybe they’re putting on a play of their own or puppet shows from behind the couch. That was a big one for us. They used to love us recording them doing puppet shows behind the couch.
- There’s physical play, which is rough and tumble fun, like climbing trees, running around the playground equipment, riding bikes, all that kind of stuff. Sports, which doesn’t need to be on an official team or anything like that, but can be kicking the soccer ball around, playing catch, setting up a hockey net, setting up a basketball net in the driveway.
- And there’s solitary play, which is where we’re happily playing by ourselves, fully engaged and immersed in the activity of our choice. That’s where I see single player video games, reading, watching TV, listening to music, activities that we’re enjoying with no particular end goal other than to finish the show or finish the book, etc. I really truly see those things as absolutely forms of play. There are just so many possibilities.
I’m going to stop here, but yes, when we open up our definition of play, it is all around us. Isn’t it?
ANNA: It’s so much bigger than the narrow view that I think a lot of us come into it with and I feel like you’ve really helped me cement the idea that everything could be play. It’s basically just in how you approach it.
And so, I love the idea of playing with ideas and solutions and concepts. And I love approaching things that I might at one time have seen as work or drudgery as play. How can I make this experience fun or relaxing or more interesting? Can I play with the environment or the background? Cleaning can be fun to music, pulling weeds as a meditative practice, racing around to put things in baskets, or tag teaming to unload the dishwasher while we’re singing silly songs. Approaching everything with that open, curious, playful mindset just changes the energy.
And so, I think just that expansion of the definition, like you’re talking about, and realizing that all of these things are play and we can take a playful attitude into everything else, wow. It just really opens up so many things.
And that leads us right into the last topic, the dichotomy of work and play. Because that is something that I’ve loved, bringing a real playful approach just to everything in my day, even the things that are considered work, that have a particular goal.
And I really wanted to share a couple of quotes that I’ve come across over the years that really have spoken to me about that. I love seeing the same kind of ideas out in the wild.
So, Thomas M. Sterner, who wrote The Practicing Mind, which dives deep into the idea of deliberate practice, wrote:
“We make an activity into work or play by our judgments.”
It really is a choice. It’s just a label we’re putting on things. It doesn’t have to be that definition. To realize that it’s totally under our control, how we judge things. And when we bring in that play element, all of a sudden, it helps us loosen up expectations, even on work. It helps us loosen up from that one right way that something should be done and seeing other creative possibilities.
With play, we bring that creative aspect in so much more readily than work. Work isn’t for play. Another one that jumped out that’s so fun to me, it was in a fiction book called The Humans by Matt Haig and aliens are here. They come to the planet to learn more about human beings. And so, he was doing a list of advice for a human.
“#76. In your mind, change the name of every day to Saturday and change the name of work to play.”
It was just so fun to see that out in the wild. And it’s like, even in a fiction book, he’s got that view. He’s seeing the value of playing with how we define work and play.
And for me, that approach has really been integral to our unschooling life, because when I’m feeling playful, this is where I’m more curious about what’s up. It’s when I’m more open to the possibilities and not fixed on there being that one right way forward. And it’s where I’m more creative. It’s where I can think out of the box. So much value comes with doing nothing but changing my mindset, changing my approach, taking away that weight we feel when we think of something as work.
“I’ve got to get this done. I’ve got to get those dishes done before I can go play.” Whatever it is that we’re feeling weight about, it doesn’t mean that all of a sudden, we don’t care that it happens. That’s not it at all, but it’s like, I can be more playful. I can see ways that that can flow in. I can see ways to make that more enjoyable. When you bring that playful approach to your days, to each moment, it just feels so much more light. Doesn’t it?
ANNA: So much.
And, like you said, there’s the choice aspect and a language aspect and an intentionality. So, it’s all those pieces kind of rolled together. And that’s where we can have a real impact on how we feel about how we’re moving through the world. And those are simple changes. This is simple changes to change your language about something, to change the way you’re thinking about something, and it just opens up all these possibilities.
This whole dichotomy of work and play has really been something that I’ve had to examine over decades. And I feel like David has really helped me with this one, because I was taught, mostly through school, but society in general, that you need to work hard and then you can play. And I think it’s such a damaging idea.
Because of it, I didn’t realize that work could be fun and play at the same time. I didn’t realize that play leads to everything. And now, I know that play makes all the difference. I love getting into the flow of play. I enjoy physical things that some might call work, but I find that it quiets a lot of the noise. And what I’ve seen is that I can come out of that flow with new ideas. I can more quickly solve something where I may have been stuck when I went into it.
When I have, in the past, taken the kind of “buckle down” and “get it done before you play” approach, I’ve seen that it actually takes much longer to solve the problem or figure the thing out. And it’s nowhere near as fun. So, just embracing that play is a sacred time, it feeds me. It connects me with others. It stimulates my brain to find new pathways that help me integrate new ideas. That is liberating.
And one of the members of the Network posed this question, “Maybe work is something that feels tedious, obligatory, or difficult, a “should”. And play is something that feels light, in flow, not obligatory, but chosen.”
And I guess I do think that choice is such a big part of it, and along with that, joy and flow and maybe it’s something that bubbles up from inside versus trying to meet an external need or feeling external pressure or expectations or some kind of measurement outside. So, like you were talking about earlier, leaving that space for things to bubble up from inside of our kids and ourselves, that leads us down this path of play.
And, no matter what, it’s just interesting to play with our definitions and our prejudices around this subject and see where it leads us, see how it feels to think of it differently.
PAM: Yes. I love all that. And I love that idea of work as expectation. Is that how we’re defining it? It’s an outside expectation put on us.
I discovered, for years now, it has been really important to me when I get an expectation from outside to take that moment to do my own internal processing, because I’m an internal processor. But it’s to process it to find the choice, to realize why I want to meet that expectation. And then it’s a choice. And then, I can move forward with it as a choice. Oh, ‘I know why I want to do this thing.’
Yes. It’s also going to meet that expectation. That’s another layer I had to peel back is like, when I did the thing, what was the other person thinking? “Oh, they did it because I asked them to, or I told them they needed to do that.” They can have whatever view they want, but I know I had a reason. I know it was my choice. And everything opened up from there. The weight of the expectation really lessened dramatically, so that I could bring that playful approach. And I got to choose how I met that expectation. I chose my own path through it. I figured out ways that it would flow for me. It’s just a night and day difference. So, it is so valuable for me not to just keep on taking expectation, expectation and doing it that way, but to take that moment to realize why I’m choosing to do it.
And over the years, as you said, our kids are older now, just living that way alongside them has helped them see that there are always possibilities. I can keep looking for the possibilities and I can shift. There’s not one right way. I have my goals, my aspirations, and there are lots of different ways to get there and I can take a little jog here, a little turn there and still keep going where I want to go. And I can change my goals and my aspirations. I am not locked into them.
Just having that playful approach and trusting ourselves when we’re drawn to doing something. Sometimes I really feel like I have no clue why all of a sudden I want to do that. Or it’s like, oh my gosh, I’ve been doing this for six months and I finally figured out why. Just having those conversations along the way. And I can see them, out in the world and doing their things now, that they are shifting and changing and moving and doing all sorts of things.
ANNA: But that really comes from play. Because when a child’s playing in the sandbox or outside, they’re trying all these different things. “Does this work? Does it not work? That didn’t work. I’m going to try something else.” And they’re just having fun and playing and in the flow.
But what we’re saying is those skills and that experience that they’re building by playing, they’re going to take to when they have to figure out, “Where am I going to move? What kind of job do I want? How do I feel about this relationship?” because they’re going to have that idea of, “There are lots of ways to solve something. What way feels good?” And they can play with those ideas. So, it’s critical, sacred work.
PAM: Yeah, play is life, right?
PAM: Oh, thank you so much, Anna. It’s such a joy and I had so much fun diving into play.
ANNA: Me too.
PAM: Thank you.
ANNA: Take care.