Book Review: 'Play'

How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

Play book coverThis book is a great antidote to feeling guilty for taking time off "just" to play. The new research on the subject is fascinating. By the time you finish this book, you will see play as such a necessity to doing well at everything else in your life, you may just feel guilty for not making more time to play (if you do, that probably proves you really are suffering a play deficit, so go play!). 

The author of Play, Dr. Stuart Brown, is the leading United States expert on play behavior.  He has conducted over 6,000 play histories of people of all sorts, from CEOs to incarcerated murderers.  He also reports on research in neuroscience (for example, the high correlation between a proportionally large brain and the tendency to play a lot).

A practical discovery for humans is that an enriched environment for babies and toddlers is not a matter of lots of interesting things to look at (mobiles, for example), but lots of things to manipulate and do things with, and especially  the chance to actively play with other children.  In fact, it turns out rambunctious play is very important to a child's mental growth.  When you think about schools' cutting art and physical education in order to drill children on facts  to pass a standardized test, you may instinctively feel this is bad; the research in this book gives you hard evidence that it is a really bad thing.

Play as part of productivity at work is one of the most fascinating sections of the book.  Companies ask Dr. Brown to help them increase productivity and motivation, and, especially, creativity and innovation. The trouble is, the companies then find their existing order threatened, and may suppress the new ideas (and people who suggest them), unless the innovators are insulated from the normal corporate structure.  New ideas have to be nurtured as carefully as maintaining a life that includes play, it seems. I found this a very thought-provoking book. 

-- P. Wood