When did we stop playing? I mean really playing. Getting lost in imaginary worlds, pretending to be these fictional characters we’d invented in our brains that had all these gadgets and gismos that we could see so vividly in our minds. Being so creative that we’re full of excitement and wonder. Why did that all end? We’ve lost so much confidence in acting a fool and playing for fun. Tapping into our creativity seems like a colossal mountain to climb or a fire breathing dragon to fight.
I have a small Saturday job at a performing arts academy where I help children act, sing and dance, allowing them to get their creative brains ticking and bodies moving in the world of performing arts. The ages vary but I find myself mostly working with the ages ranging from 13-18 – the high school age. The age of uncertainty, puberty and self-consciousness. This past weekend, a statement popped up from the high school group which made me want to dive in further.
We were doing a task that required the kids to fully embody objects, silly objects, such as a knife or a pair of shoes. Objects that if you told a 5-year-old to re-enact they’d probably execute it perfectly. The group immediately became shy and uncomfortable as if we caught them picking their noses. They told us that people their age no longer do ‘stuff like that’, that they don’t play, and their imaginations have been replaced with ‘a more logical way of thinking’.
This really sadden me. They were describing their play and creativeness as a childhood pet that had died and then buried in a shoebox in their back gardens. It made me look at my own life as someone who waved goodbye to high school over 3 years ago to do a performance degree which was full of play and creativity. However, I recognised how much I’ve also changed since playing in the playground, and how conscious I can be when I’m being creative and silly.
We’re taught to focus on the future, to work on the next step and the step after that and the step after that, and then we lose the fun and silliness along the way. From primary school we are taught to look forward to high school and what is expected of us there. High school contains GCSE’s that prepare us for A-Levels, which then prepare us for university or apprenticeships and careers, then BAM, just like that we’ve grown up and playing seems like centuries ago (which, for some of us, it has been).
I asked a question on my Instagram story whether others feel the same way, asking them why they also stopped playing. These are some of the responses I received:
“I was probably 11 or 12 when I stopped playing because it wasn’t ‘cool’ anymore. I think at the time when I started high school or even when I left primary school, my friend became interested in phones and boys, and I think I felt judged for not having the same interests which is probably why I stopped so I could fit in.”
“I’ve still not stopped playing at the ripe age of 21, my job title is a playworker and I love it! Although, I’d say I played less throughout my teen years. I would say that would be down to fitting in with the rest of the crowd at school. Uni helped a lot (referring to BA Dance), I definitely think that involved a lot of play in terms of improvising etc and silliness.”
So, playing comes and goes throughout our lives but never returns to the full extent of our primary school days, or the days where we’d play on the street with the kids from next-door. We have moments of silliness but only in a space where we feel comfortable to do so and some don’t ever find themselves in situations where those comfortable spaces are around. Play is a useful tool to have under our belts, allowing us to be free and creative that can build our confidence.
When was the last time you really played, and would you consider letting loose a little? Maybe putting on your helmet and exploring space again, or picking up the sword and defeating the dragon, or simply talking complete gibberish to a friend for the fun of it. I think you’d be surprised at just how fulfilling it could be.