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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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August 04, 2011

The Lost Art of Play: Reclaiming a Primal Tradition

By Mark Sisson
156 Comments

I’ve got play on the mind today, folks. It’s mid-week, yes, but there’s something more to it. This week I’m presenting on play at the Ancestral Health Symposium in Los Angeles. It promises to be a great event, and I’m looking forward to being among so many like-minded folks – experts and laypeople alike. I’ve talked about play now and then on Mark’s Daily Apple. I’ve even done a definitive guide for it, but that hardly means I’ve closed the book. As with most things in life, time and experience have a way of revealing new angles, deeper layers, and unforeseen connections. Our need for play is likewise continuous and complex – and the likely roots of our inclination are not what you’d expect.

Experts have long studied the benefits of play for children, and the evolutionary logic is pretty transparent. Play undoubtedly honed practical skills like hunting, cooking, building, and child care. Likewise, it served as an important backdrop for social development just as it does today. It’s easy to justify playtime for kids. (They get so darn much enjoyment out it.) But what about us?

Talk of playtime for adults often garners eye rolls and claims of self-indulgence. (Ye old Puritanical influence rears its repugnant head.) Primal living, of course, shows us that the optional stuff like play isn’t really optional. When we embrace play, we claim a better quality of life for ourselves. We decrease stress. We connect better with those around us. We get out more and get more out of what we do. We find more fun and maybe even meaning.

For us grown-ups, however, does play simply make sense as a therapeutic counter to the rampant stress and social distance in our society, or is there a deeper, more inherent drive – a timeless impulse that even Grok himself would’ve answered to?

Stuart Brown is a psychologist who has devoted decades to studying play and applying its benefits to both personal therapy and business optimization. He’s one of the few experts who has focused his study on the role of play throughout the life cycle. Over his career, he’s studied play in a host of cultures and historical times, and he’s compared the play patterns of children and adults in both human and various animal species. He calls play a “profound biological process” and presents evidence that play continually shapes the human brain throughout our lifetime.

In his book, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, Brown suggests we’re a unique species in this regard. Many experts in fields as diverse as biology, anthropology, and psychology have written about human neoteny – the extension of many “juvenile” characteristics into adulthood. Sure, we keep our (relatively speaking) baby faces. We have an unprecedented long childhood period. Even more importantly, however, we retain the early interest in exploring, experimenting, and tinkering with our environments long after the adults of other species have settled into the serious business of instinctual routine. Though we had our own survival to ensure in the same harsh circumstances, we held on to the juvenile tendency of pushing the envelope in ways other adult mammals didn’t. For example, adult chimps, Brown explains, lose their playfulness and settle into relatively rigid patterns of behavior as adults. According to Brown, the cognitive and creative benefits of human neoteny are continually derived through our lifelong inclination toward play and experimentation. They’re responsible, in part, for the relative success of our species.

And that social development we were so busy honing in our neighborhood bands and play groups? Brown suggests play has been crucial to the social cohesion of our communities – all the way from early tribe life to modern day urban living. Play, Brown argues, allowed us to organize in more complex social groups, which further enhanced our potential for survival.

We are, without a doubt, the most adaptable of species. We’re capable of living anywhere on earth, and we’ve wandered to the far flung, inhospitable lands long before modern conveniences made those environments easier to weather. We’re continually adapting – exploring, changing, reinventing our roles and our interactions with our environments – throughout our life cycle. As Brown explains, we have a capacity for cognitive, social, and behavioral plasticity that drove our species’ evolution and still lives within us today.

I thought of Brown’s book when I read an article in the Wall Street Journal some weeks ago about the number of innovative CEOs (Google, Amazon, Sims games, etc.) who went to play-focused Montessori schools for their early years (preschool-K/1st grade). The difference in educational method came down to what one CEO called the “joy of discovery,” the interest in going down all kinds of roads, experimenting, and ‘letting the mind run imaginatively.'”

Play in this regard isn’t a diversion from our lives but a complex and unique engagement with it – with the people and things that populate our environments, the circumstances and challenges that exist in our lives. Children, psychologists tell us, use play as a backdrop for processing difficult emotions and novel scenarios. They continually test out their own developmental adaptations and new discoveries within the safe, experimental space of play. And, as anyone who’s observed children at play knows, they throw themselves into it and don’t look back. They commit 100% to the constructed scenario: the random team affiliations, the imagined roles, the fantastical scenarios. In short, play is fun and beneficial because they create it – and feel it – as real.

A childhood friend of mine had this big, crazy, mutt of a dog who we’d always play with. He had short legs and lumbered as he ran, but he’d do anything to keep up with us. One of our favorite games when we were cooped up on a stormy or frigid day was getting the dog to chase us through the house. We’d get him good and riled up in one end of the house and then run to the opposite end where we’d jump on the couch, grab the cushions to shield ourselves, and wait for the dog to come leaping at us with crazed fervor. (The cushions were to protect our bare legs and arms from getting scratched to oblivion, but we often didn’t make it in time.) The running through the house, of course, helped us blow off steam those days. The real thrill, however, was the chase, the sound of that big, barking, slobbering dog at our heels. Though we knew the dog wouldn’t intentionally hurt us, we were on some deep, ecstatic level running for our lives. We howled with laughter every time that dog came running – half from the hilarious sight of his flapping jowls and crazed eyes and half from the adrenaline rush of it all. Later when we’d worn out either ourselves or the dog, we’d compare the day’s damage as well as scars from the last bout.

As I watched my children play capture the flag years later, it was clear their enjoyment likewise had little to do with the physical exercise itself. Sure, kids naturally love being in constant motion, but something else was operating there. The real center of play for my kids was the deep emotional investment. It’s the feeling of risk and power, of silliness and absurdity, of the slight, alternating edges of (benign) fear and ecstatic relief. How many of us feel that level of emotional investment in our play – or in anything? Even in our most competitive states, our motivation is hollowed out in a way it somehow wasn’t years ago.

I think that’s the heart of what we lose as adults – the freedom of play, the pure release of it. We can cajole ourselves to go play frisbee in the backyard, dress our kids’ dolls for their latest tea party soiree, or even make ourselves join a summer baseball league or pottery class. In these cases, it’s not the action but the spirit that’s lacking. Most of the time we’re likely just faking it for the sake of the kids or our own sense of “healthy,” “well-rounded” obligation. (Obligation to play – how depressing is that?) We can be conscientious and simultaneously miss the point – and benefit – entirely. How many of us see ourselves here? I know I’m guilty from time to time. When my kids were young and life was more hectic, it was probably – and ironically – more so.

To get the full advantage of genuine play, we have to surrender – or at least suspend – something in ourselves that’s often hard to relinquish — the obsession with obvious productivity for one, the onslaught of technological distraction for another. If we want to nurture the best of our inherent neoteny, we need to follow its nudge toward continual openness and experimentation. Neglecting the play impulse doesn’t bode well for us. Without play, Brown suggests, we become creatively rigid over time like the adult primates. We continually narrow the terrain of our cognitive musings, our social interactions, and physical life. The choice has inevitable consequences for our emotional well-being, our practical resilience, and our creative potential.

Reclaiming play can at first seem intense and challenging, particularly if the muscle of our imagination has gone unused for long. We have more layers (of stress, rationalism, distraction) to peel back than, say, kids do. Children seem to migrate back and forth between the imaginative and real, the instinctual and rational, effortlessly – their connections between these worlds being more translucent and dynamic. Reclaiming play, I think, means making that portal more accessible – clearing out the mental space between concrete “reality” and fluid, open-ended play. Like a path in the woods, the more we travel it the more navigable it becomes and the more instinctual our experience of it is. Play and humor gradually infiltrate life in a free-flowing way again. We rediscover our own orientation toward play – whatever form it most naturally and enjoyably takes in our personalities and circumstances. As Brown says, it’s about reclaiming play not just as a concept but as a personal, individualized passion. We all remember what inspired that in our younger selves, don’t we?

As we round the corner into the final leg of summer, I’m thinking about cultivating a more genuine spirit of play in my days. I’m committed to scheduling play less and finding it more, chucking the routine and making more space for the casual experience of it.

Thanks for stopping by today. Let me know your thoughts on reclaiming play – in action and spirit. Enjoy the week, everyone!

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156 Comments on "The Lost Art of Play: Reclaiming a Primal Tradition"

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Gayle
Gayle
5 years 1 month ago

fortunately I ‘play’ several times a week. I take a step aerobics class that is like playing to me. It is kind of like ‘hop scotch’. Also I play tennis once or twice a week. Played last night as a matter of fact

Peggy The Primal Parent
5 years 1 month ago

Ugh I was just going to write about this next week! That’s the second time Mark’s done this to me.

“Talk of playtime for adults often garners eye rolls and claims of self-indulgence.”

This is so true. I am pretty much considered an immature kid raising a kid by many in my neighborhood because I am so playfull, active, and silly. Who’s the one climbing all the trees at the park? Not the kids usually. It’s me!

Veronique
Veronique
5 years 1 month ago

Hi Peggy! Write about it anyway, I am always looking forward to your blogs 🙂

Gourmet Grassfed
5 years 1 month ago

Wow. This is beautiful and an eloquent reminder. Thanks Mark. Really.

Caleigh
Caleigh
5 years 1 month ago
Yay for play! I constantly feel down when I come home from work. I never want to do anything more strenuous than flop on the couch and go to sleep. Yesterday after work was one of those flop on the couch days. No energy whatsoever. Finally I gave up and went to bed at 6:30pm. Well, my 11 month old beagle decided it was play time. She jumped on and off the bed a billion times, barking the whole way up and down. Chased her tail and grabbed 5 different toys to shove into my face and then wanted to… Read more »
David
David
5 years 1 month ago

Wow, I read that and completely missed the word “beagle” and was very confused for a moment. 🙂

Seriously though, this is probably a demonstrative example of why people with pets are generally happier and healthier; having a pet encourages play for adults in a way that society in general doesn’t look at with disdain.

Mike
Mike
5 years 1 month ago

There is nothing more fun and playful than a spontaneous pillow fight in my living room with my 4 year old. It usually consists of us chasing each other around the house, hitting with pillows [sometimes one in each hand], throwing pillows, or wrestling to get control of the ‘good’ pillows. Sometimes we play a little too hard and bumps and bruises result, but we always end with laughter and my son begging for more.

cTo
cTo
5 years 1 month ago
Does play have to be physical? At my job we, sadly, spend most of our time at our desks. We’re all a lot of smart, nerdy people, though, who apparently need mental stimulation beyond the job. At the drop of a hat, we will send around department-wide email chains of jokes, internet memes, the latest popular youtube cat videos, photoshop renderings of people in the office, etc etc etc. Perhaps this is engaging our brains in a similar way to play. I certainly feel a lot more cheerful and connected with my coworkers after a particularly good thread sends me… Read more »
Vince
Vince
5 years 19 hours ago

Hey, I don’t think play has to be just Physical… Although I do “play” in the physical sense, I am a bit of a geek and get together with friends to play table-top rpg games… specifically, dungeons and dragons. It is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in an alternate reality and to get some of that alternating “risk” and “relief”. Any other game could be just as fun. Risk, Settlers of Cattan, even chess or crib. As long as it’s not a computer game, I think.

Sean
Sean
5 years 1 month ago

I play with my kids everyday. I don’t mean I take them to the playground, I mean I PLAY. I love it. I’m always the biggest kid wherever I go with my 3 boys. And I’d have to say that free form play is the basis, foundation, of my exercise.

Patrick
5 years 1 month ago
Hate to be the harbinger of bad (good?) news, Mark, but Thursday’s not hump-day. Well, not the kind of hump I think you were referencing, anyway. 😉 Re: the article, I consider play to be third only to “eat plenty plants and animals” and “move frequently at a slow pace.” The three together are the perfect Primal triumvirate. It’s not that the other aspects or laws aren’t important, I just don’t feel them to be as fundamental or rudimentary. (I guess I’d have to say that LHT ties with second or third, though.) Great article, anyway, and there’s no better… Read more »
DThalman
DThalman
5 years 1 month ago
THIS IS GREAT: “It’s the feeling of risk and power, of silliness and absurdity, of the slight, alternating edges of (benign) fear and ecstatic relief. How many of us feel that level of emotional investment in our play – or in anything?” This is so eloquent and sums up perfectly why I love rock climbing and mountain biking, in particular. A big part of play for me is being outside. Summer is my time to let ‘er rip…rode my mt bike down mt ashland monday, swam 2.3 miles in a high mountain lake near here tuesday, caught a steelhead in… Read more »
Hal
5 years 1 month ago
I read this book a while back and was struck by a (perhaps obvious) sad fact – it seems that as adults, many people have to ‘relearn’ how to play. Seems silly when you think about it, because it’s something that is so ingrained in children, but societal pressures, plus the feeling of familiarity (as things become more familiar, they become less novel and perhaps more ‘boring’?) seem to lead adults to seek out passive entertainment as opposed to active entertainment. After all, adults still need the escape, they just get to it differently. Of course, I think that mixing… Read more »
Mary Hone
5 years 1 month ago

My husband and I find time to play outdoors as much as possible. Hiking, rock hounding, anything. We call it recharging our batteries, and it’s very important to our mental well being.

Chris Tamme
5 years 1 month ago

I have never been happier then when I am playing outside with my daughter. She comes up with the best games and we usually end up dog tired after several hours of running around. I have another on the way and it will be even more fun coming up with new games to play with her. I have always been the adult that loves to play and I have to cajole others to stop out and have fun. I have never understood that mindset but they are the ones missing out not me.

Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy
5 years 1 month ago

Play “isn’t a diversion from our lives but a complex and unique engagement with it.” Well said, Mark!

Animanarchy
5 years 1 month ago
I don’t get a lot of play because I have no one to play with. I try to incorporate random moments of fun into my days though and it does help keep me in a positive mood. Occasionally at home if I’m just lazing around I’ll take a minute to do a few somersaults or rolls on the carpet and jump over various things in various ways. Usually when going up the stairs I run, jump, or stretch my forward leg as much as possible and try to go slow without falling backwards (hasn’t happened yet). Basically for fun I… Read more »
Kelda
5 years 1 month ago

Mark I love these threads where you take the idea and just let it run where it will.

I’m just beginning to understand why Play has been the hardest thing for me – now I just have to figure out a way to re-remember because I did love it once, I know that much!

Joanne - The Real Food Mama
5 years 1 month ago

We take play very seriously in our house! Of course with two little boys (4 & 18mo) everything is playing. I think that’s where the phrase “kids keep ya young” comes from. We are alway making up games….like the lastest “Pillow Slam” that’s what the 4 yr old named it. It’s simple and usually involves everyone with a pillow and runnig around out too small living room bumping into each other…with the occasional pillow launched to take out some ones feet. In then end everyone is laughing their butts off and feeling great!

Alison Golden
5 years 1 month ago
I think play takes many forms as adults. And doesn’t always look like traditional ‘play’ but is an adult form fulfilling a similar function. A lot of child’s play (most?) is skill building and practice that we use for real as adults. As a child I would run ‘hotels’ and ‘hospitals’ with my dolls and teddies. Now I run a home with kids and a husband. That’s my main function in life and I consider it play most of the time. Yesterday I was doing a jigsaw with my kid, I was sorting the pieces while he put them together… Read more »
The Primal Warrior
5 years 1 month ago

Just last night while I was running barefoot, some people were playing volleyball so I jumped in and ended up playing for almost three hours! Slept like a baby after that.

Joel
Joel
5 years 1 month ago

Really fantastic article, Mark. Really fantastic.

I try to make time to play with my three year old boys… You are right though that when they are younger it always seems difficult to FIND time for anything but basic survival…

I want time to play with not just my boys…I want time to play with my wife, my newborn twin daughters…my friends… It is exceptionally difficult to convince the grownups in my life that this sort of ‘indulgence’ is quite the opposite. The indulgence is a necessity for balance.

Weatherwax
Weatherwax
5 years 1 month ago

Play is tough for me–it’s the hardest part of the Primal Plan. I’m not sure why. It makes me feel guilty and self-conscious, at least at first . . . which isn’t rational. But there you go.

I also suspect it’s the most *important* part of the plan for me, the part that really has the opportunity to change my life. So thanks, Mark, for the post; and thanks, everyone else, for all the inspiration. It’s like a manual on “how to have fun.”

Going off to have fun now . . .

laura
laura
5 years 1 month ago
“Talk of playtime for adults often garners eye rolls and claims of self-indulgence.” Don’t I know it! I’ve been working for a year and a half to try & get a play class going for adults at a RECenter. It is really, really, really, really, really hard to get anyone to even try the class or if they do try it, to let loose enough to enjoy themselves. We’re all stuck in a box of what “adult” means and play is not part of that. Heck! I can’t even get my husband to let go enough to play for the… Read more »
Joanne - The Real Food Mama
5 years 1 month ago

I think we need to bring back old school gym class games as classes in Community Centers and Rec Centers!!

DODGEBALL Anyone?!
FOURSQUARE??

LOL

Jen
Jen
5 years 1 month ago

I agree! I play in an adult co-ed kickball league, and it is amazing!

cTo
cTo
5 years 1 month ago

EFF YEAH FOURSQUARE!!! ZOMG I love the sound the balls make when they bounce, and all the tricky layered upon layered rules and techniques we made up as kids. I would LOOOVE to do that again!

laura
laura
5 years 1 month ago

yeah, it’s amazing how much people still have fun with even a game of Tag! or catch or keep-away for that matter. But sadly people get ooged out by touching other people or being silly or making noises. Will keep trying to fight the good fight. : )

Tammy
Tammy
5 years 1 month ago

My “Primal” partner is my dog Cocoa. We like to wrestle, play tug of war, and chase each other around the house. We also like getting the cat all riled up every once in a while.

fitmom
fitmom
5 years 1 month ago

such a well-written, thoughtful post. sometimes, your topics go beyond primal and to the heart of somthing deeper. Well played!

Hans Gruber
Hans Gruber
5 years 1 month ago

Animanarchy, I too don’t have kids or anyone else to play with. However I make an effort to play with myself (if you get my drift) at least once every day. I used to schedule my “playtime” for 11.30pm but after reading this post I think I will do it more spontaneously.

“It’s the feeling of risk and power, of silliness and absurdity, of the slight, alternating edges of (benign) fear and ecstatic relief.”

Amen, brother!

Hayden Tompkins
5 years 1 month ago

That is exactly why I am all unapologetic when it comes to my trampoline.

“YES, I have a giant trampoline in my backyard. NO, I do not have kids. Are you saying you don’t ever rock a trampoline? Looked longingly at a bouncy house? Never jumped up and down on a bed?”

Laura
Laura
5 years 1 month ago

I think it’s true that play does not have to always be physical. For example, I love to sit down with a book – I find it so relaxing, surely that is a form of play.

I get most of my play with my horse – sometimes goal-oriented training, sometimes just a lazy ride in the forest or a swim in the pond. We only do what makes us feel good. Of course, there’s also the kind of play I get with my husband, but we won’t go there…

Ginger Thickbeard
Ginger Thickbeard
5 years 1 month ago

This post dug up childhood memories of playing, particularly Capture the Flag… the exhilaration of eluding being caught and successfully capturing the flag was better than anything. I pursue various hobbies and outdoor activities, but I havent experienced that feeling in a loooong time

laura
laura
5 years 1 month ago

Then go organize a game of it! : ) Seriously. It just takes one person inviting other people to get something like that to happen.

Steve
5 years 1 month ago

When I grew up I was often shut out of games, picked last for teams or was just never made to feel that welcome during play… I had social anxiety disorder until I was 18… nuff said 😛

Weatherwax
Weatherwax
5 years 1 month ago
Steve–ME TOO!! I basically still feel that “team sports = a way to get yelled at” or at the very least “a surefire way to let other people down.” Makes it hard to get out of the house and go do it, that’s for sure. I have to talk myself into it every single time. Of course there are lots of other ways to play. But if you’re like me, part of you thinks you *have* to do a “sport,” because part of you thinks you failed at it as a kid . . . . (The rest of me… Read more »
Sadie Palmisano
Sadie Palmisano
5 years 1 month ago

What about if people have debilitating knee injuries? My husband has that….it makes engaging in play difficult, as much as he really wants to (he was a soccer player most of his life). In fact, that’s a large part of why he’s no longer very active — it’s not fun anymore. What do you do then?

Sharon
Sharon
5 years 1 month ago
It seems there are all sorts of sport activities for people in wheelchairs. Racing, basketball, tennis, etc. I wonder if he could find others who have similar disabilities who would be willing to form a wheelchair league of some sort. Or maybe the wheelchair bound wouldn’t mind if he played with them. How about horse back riding or swimming or we used to play sit down volleyball in a gym with a lower net on rainy days. Since he is an ex-jock I am sure some fellow ex-jocks with wrecked knees could get together and brainstorm about an activity they… Read more »
cTo
cTo
5 years 1 month ago

I once saw a wheelchair hip-hop dance team. No joke. Great excuse to do cool wheelchair tricks to music.

Animanarchy
5 years 1 month ago
I’m only 21 with a bit of a debilitating knee injury (at the moment.. I’m hoping it will heal and vanish). I’ve found that the following helps: biking leisurely for long distances since it’s low impact and you use your knees gently, basically greasing the groove. Swimming is also good. Walking on soft land: mud, grass, sand, moss etc. I bet consuming lots of bone broth would help. And bee pollen and ginseng extract. Those are two natural foods I believe deserve some recognition. They have been my saviours. Recently I moved from a city with a lake back to… Read more »
Ellen Raymor
Ellen Raymor
5 years 1 month ago

Play in the water! The water supports your knees and reduces the pressure there. Pool, jacuzzi, lake, ocean, whatever. Your knee gets a break but your heart is still pumpin’. Walk in the water (I did say “in”), do some ez kicks, twist at the waist, push down with your arms, hold on to something and just kick. Resist with every movement and you will find a good workout that is easy on the knees.

Sharon
Sharon
5 years 1 month ago

When I am creating art, playing with whatever I am working with in an intuitive way brings the best results. It is also what keeps me interested in making art.

When I was a 7-9th grade physical education teacher, the several classes I had that were full of “trouble makers” always loved it when I took them into a modern dance class. It was like they were set free to creatively play.

It seemed to me that the students who didn’t conform to the structure of school were always the best creative dancers. Or at least the most joyful.

Mike Lucas
Mike Lucas
5 years 1 month ago
If I may be so bold, I think a lot of the comments here are missing the point of Mark’s article. Playing tennis regularly, hiking every week, etc. — those may fit the basic Primal definition of play but I think Mark is talking here about something deeper — something that involves imagination and creativity. Peggy and Hayden are a bit more on track, I think, with their suggestion to embrace childlike activities like climbing trees in the park or jumping on the trampoline. A little bit of silliness can go a long way toward opening up the imagination, and… Read more »
Jen
Jen
5 years 1 month ago

Totally agree, MIke!

Ingvildr
Ingvildr
5 years 1 month ago

I do medieval re-enactment many weekends with the family. We go camping and play hard all weekend and come home and try to wash the grunge off and fall asleep. Sometimes it takes two or three showers to get all the ground in dirt off our feet. Monday morning I am washing mountains of laundry and feeling ‘hung over’ from too much fun. By the next weekend I am ready to do it again.

Ingvildr

Lady Ellyn
Lady Ellyn
5 years 1 month ago
I just love sword fighting! Ingvildr, your post rocks! Well, OK, we play with dull swords, lots of good armor and sensible rules. Still, its like a living video game. Get klunked on the helmet and its a “death” and a point to the other guy. Block with that shield (presses help this), brandish that sword (pushups do wonders), duck that blow (squats), find your opponent’s weakness and strike! It’s a really fun game to play even if you don’t sword fight. The people who do reinactment are smart, and fun, creative and adventurous. Every primal workout I do, every… Read more »
Weatherwax
Weatherwax
5 years 1 month ago

That sounds like SO MUCH FUN.

Ingvildr
Ingvildr
5 years 1 month ago

I’ve played in the SCA for the last 15 years. My husband does rapier rather than heavy fighting. With the four year old I’m doing a lot of boffer(padded foam swords) with him. My older children grew up camping and playing hard. I’ve done it for so many years because you get to camp and play with 300 or so friends and enjoy the hands on creativity of crafting your own gear and goodies.

Cal
5 years 1 month ago

Thank you again for another great article Mark!

(That’s another book ordered; these authors must love you too. ;))

Dasbutch
Dasbutch
5 years 1 month ago

You get up every morning
From your ‘larm clock’s warning
Take the 8:15 into the city
There’s a whistle up above
And people pushin’, people shovin’
And the girls who try to look pretty
And if your train’s on time
You can get to work by nine
And start your slaving job to get your pay
If you ever get annoyed
Look at me I’m self-employed
I love to work at nothing all day
And I’ll be…playing all the time.

Kayla
5 years 1 month ago

I think I’ve totally forgotten how to play! This is definitely something I need to work on! Thanks for the reminder and background on why!

kiran
kiran
5 years 1 month ago

I just saw an article on unschooling and its about letting kids learn what they want to learn naturally in an unstructured manor. Not sure if its good or bad yet but it seems to me a Grok-ish way to learn. I guess this could be life learning through play. I definitely like the idea as it is well suited to my style of learning and curiosity. Anyway I thought it was interesting at the least.

Alison Golden
5 years 1 month ago

Unschooling is brilliant! I miss the years we did it. Child-driven activities (as opposed to adult-driven,) following their passions, finding the learning in everything and I mean everything. I was even able to create lessons out of a trip to Chuck E Cheese!

Even if you don’t unschool as such you can still follow this ethos with kids outside of formal school and adopt it for yourself. It’s about accepting we are hardwired to learn, finding our passions and pursuing them. It is the coolest thing, IMO.

Damon
5 years 1 month ago

Luckily play isn’t really a problem for me — I teach karate. Several times a day I pull out pool noodles, dodgeballs, or pads and play various games with children and adults. Even sparring feels like play with the right attitude.

Play for children is often inherently dangerous. As an adult we learn to curb danger; not a bad idea, especially considering how much more serious injury can be to us adults.

But I advise anyone seriously interested in regular play to call a local martial arts place and give it a try. ^_^

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Corinne Spiers
5 years 1 month ago

Thanks Mark, now I have a scientific tag – neotite!
I keep saying I’ll grow up when I get to 30,40,50 …. still not there, having too much fun.
Having a dog and young niece makes one less conspicuous in this overly “proper and grown-up” society.

Tatianna
5 years 1 month ago
I would definitely call my self a kid in an adult body. When I was growing up in Russia, the computers just started to become more popular, but not a lot of children had them. So all the kids mostly played outside, and the elderly had their own gathering in the evening in our neighborhood. The life was more playful than it is right now. Now, when I travel back home, I never see children play outside, everyone is at home on their computers. But it is a such an important part of our life, to connect and play with… Read more »
Hanna
5 years 1 month ago

This topic has been on my mind all week. I love playing and take every chance I get, whether it’s swinging my nieces around, chasing my parents’ dog or letting her chase me, going to the military obstacle course, which is like a big playground for adults. Summer is fantastic for playing outside and allows for a lot of spontaneity. The weekend is just hours away and I can’t wait to play 🙂

Hannah
Hannah
5 years 1 month ago
I think play is undervalued for both kids and adults. It’s so much more than just a stress-relief or way to blow off steam. So many people seem to think you need to restrict play time and get kids to work in order to learn. But it’s so backwards, because play is *how* they truly learn and by stifling it, you stunt their intellectual growth. A really good blog on the roles of play and curiosity as foundations of learning is Peter Gray’s Freedom to Learn. He frequently discusses what we can learn from hunter-gatherer societies. The ideas presented are… Read more »
Olly
5 years 1 month ago
Amazing post, Mark – even by your standards. Really got me thinking! Wouldn’t it be great to have place that was completely focused on play – but for adults? A ‘Paleo Playground’, if you like? For paleo enthusiast to come and really test themselves – running, jumping, climbing and generally playing physical games mimicking the everyday lives our ancestors lived. In my mind this place would contains a monster climbing frame, various balancing and movement equipment, an obstacle course and a variety of other physical challenges designed for those who want to push themselves a bit harder – to get… Read more »
Lady Ellyn
Lady Ellyn
5 years 1 month ago
You know how a Greyhound racing track has a mechanical rabbit that the dogs chase around the track? Well, I want a track in a field with a big mechanical “tiger” – but instead of us chasing the “tiger”, the “tiger” is chasing us! Sprint, Sprint, uphill, downhill, S-p-r-i-n-t !!! We could set the “tiger” to different speeds, depending on how “hungry” it is. Start with a tiger that has just eaten so its really not all that desperate, it’s just messing around and kinda slow because it’s full. Then, work your way up to the tiger that is really… Read more »
liz
5 years 1 month ago
Lovely post, timely and important. What I’d love to see for ‘adults’ (as I work with children a great deal) is for all of us to stop thinking of how we develop as linear – as if we have a personal history/development time-line with points where play stops and fitness begins, for example. Or where play is ‘developmentally’ appropriate and then…not. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do think there is a movement afoot to erase the linear way of viewing things in many arenas. Does anyone ever still feel 5? 11? 20? and also whatever their… Read more »
Matthew Muller
Matthew Muller
5 years 1 month ago
Don’t forget to dance, and sing too! My wife and I went to see a Beatles tribute band the other night, and at first I was such a negative nelly. We drove to get there and arrived a bit late. After their first set we went for a walk, and when we came back for their second set, we eventually got up and started dancing: It took a while to get into it, but next thing you know we are dancing with all these great people, singing along at the top of our lungs. Wow. I highly recommend going out… Read more »
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Dawn
Dawn
5 years 1 month ago

I had to laugh at your description of the big slobbery mutt chasing you guys across the house. That’s exactly the game that my two and a half year old son plays with our big slobbery Lab mix. It’s a lovely thing!

Mark Haner
5 years 1 month ago

From one Mark to another, thanks for this post.

I’m a fitness professional and I’ve been reading MDA (both current and old posts) for the last week or so now, and I’m hooked! It’s very refreshing to see someone focus not just on eating the way our ancestors did (which, granted, is all too necessary), but also taking other cues from what I guess one would consider “natural” life. Sitting in a cubicle and using Angry Birds as your source of fun just doesn’t mesh with what I think of when I think of living well.

Thanks again, Mark!

Bill
Bill
5 years 1 month ago
This is a great post Mark. I am a 22 year old college student, and my summer job this year was playing games with kids. One thing I finally started to realize by the end of the summer is that imagination is an integral part of the fun for the kids. For example, the kids got bored with normal dodge ball, but then one of them created a game called “War” where the teams had bases (playgrounds), generals, and countries (Russia vs. America). Of course, “War” was almost the exact same game as dodge ball, but it took on a… Read more »
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