Why Play is Important and How it’s Related to Being a Writer

I’ve mentioned before how much I liked to play as a child, and how that’s continued into adulthood. Well, that got me thinking about how my proclivity for play influenced my writing and my life, beyond my desire to get lost in make-believe worlds.

There is all kinds of research on the role of stories in childhood development, but what about play? How does play help us grown and learn?

When my niece was little, I’d often catch her reenacting with her dolls what had just happened to her. For instance, one time she got in trouble for getting into the pantry without permission. Not more than an hour later, she was pretending to scold her doll for doing the same.

Creative play like that helped her express and cope with the feelings that came along with that experience. It helped her learn how to deal with being in trouble, and perhaps even how frustrated her mom felt.

Me, with my nieces.

Christine Carter in Greater Good Magazine states that “through dramatic play, children gradually learn to take each other’s needs into account, and appreciate different values and perspectives.” It helps kids experiment with social roles in much the same way writers write to explore their own feelings, and those of other people.

Oftentimes when a story idea comes to me, it’s in the form of a question: Why would someone do that/behave like that/think that? Through play (writing), I can explore those reasons and hopefully come to an understanding.

Think of your favorite bad guy, or the character you just love to hate. There are a million out there: Snape, Lucius Malfoy, Darth Vader, Gollum. One that always stands out to me is Warden Morgan in the Harry Dresden series. He’s been Dresden’s antagonist through several books when, in Turn Coat, Morgan shows up on Harry’s doorstep seeking protection. Throughout the book, we learn the reasons behind Morgan’s actions–the reasons why he is the way he is.

In much the same way, through play, children are given permission to act out their fears, explore the unknown, and try to understand why humans are so crazy. They’re allowed to ask “What if?”

What if this Barbie finds herself alone in this dream house? What if I were a mother to three babies? What if I could breastfeed this doll like mommy breastfeeds my little sister? How would I react? How have I seen others react? What would my role look like?

In this way they feel useful, helpful, and beneficial.

I could go on and on. The biggest takeaway, however, is that play is useful – and not just for children. Adults, for many of the same reasons, play to explore the unknown, think outside the box, learn new things, create new ideas and feelings and understanding. As Dr. Brown in his book Play, states, “Play is art, books, movies, music, comedy, flirting and daydreaming. It is looking at the world and saying, “How do you work? And how much fun can I get out of you?”’

How has play influenced your life? Leave a comment below!

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