Bringing Back Play

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Play has been taken away from adults ­- or perhaps was never ours to own ­- but is something that we clearly miss.

I spend a fair amount of time with my kids on the beach in Oman. Ostensibly, this is to give them some fresh air, plenty of room to run around and a modicum of creativity when it comes to sand castle building. However, the real reason is far more selfish. It gives me the opportunity to play, under the guise of parenting. I sometimes notice that my grand designs for the ultimate fort are largely ignored by my children (3 and 6) but often look up to find them a hundred yards down the beach absorbed in something entirely different. A sample of one is never going to provide a rigorous approach but, as I look around the beach, I see plenty of mums and dads entirely fixated in the same way.

In the playground I find myself swinging from the monkey bars while my children are playing ‘it’ and at home I am building a Lego super­rocket while my children are stuffing bits of Lego into large, pink, plastic unicorns (whose psychotic electrical innards have thankfully long been destroyed).

Play has been taken away from adults ­ or perhaps was never ours to own ­ but is something that we clearly miss.

Play, in our early teens, became sports which became competitions and structure which became playless and performance focused. There is a great benefit from structured, team sports but it should not preclude play. Some adults continue to play by using their creative tendencies to write, paint and sculpt but the vast majority probably have a play deficit.

Perhaps there is nothing wrong with this and that we have matured to the point where we do not need to play any more. I clearly do not agree. Play ­ by which I mean free, unstructured mucking about ­ is a fine way of getting yourself into novel situations that demand an element of creativity. It could be building a den in the woods or creating new games on the fly but in each case it involves action, movement, creativity and fun.

We incorporate play into our sessions at Wildfitness. This might not be the explicit aim of a given session but the play element filters into many. The benefit of this approach that it immediately removes ideas of competitiveness and self-consciousness and gives our clients a license to be silly. It is pretty difficult to take yourself seriously when vaguely mimicking the movements of a crab walking backwards or copy­cating your partner doing cartwheels down the beach and play makes this perfectly acceptable.

We have our friend and play guru, Frank Forencich, to thank for these elements of what we do and how we do it.