Behind the Seams

Why Play is the Answer - By Dr. Deborah MacNamara

When it comes to health and well-being, we often overlook something that is right before our eyes that keeps us emotionally resilient and robust. The answer is play and it is for our own well being that the play instinct stays with us for life. Sometimes adults think they are too old to play but this is not true. Play takes many shapes and forms throughout our life and what is key is not forgetting it’s importance.

Play can involve toying with ideas or problems, to creating something with materials such as watercolors, sticks, crayons, threads, zippers, metal, stones, and more. It could be moving your body through dance, running, or kayaking down a river. Play is any activity where we are not engaged in achieving an outcome but where we are enjoying the moment. The activity is what grabs our attention and holds onto us when we are at play. Play is a break from the realities and work that consumes our life which is why we feel refreshed when we emerge from it.

Play is a wonderful release for emotional energy and you can watch it appear in different forms. As I watch kids play hide and seek from the Covid virus I know that play is helping them process their emotions. There is alarm at the unknown, fear that it might get you, and frustration that things can’t change quickly enough. Play can make room for all of these emotions and more.

Sometimes we can’t find words for all of our experiences because we are overwhelmed. This is why play is important because it doesn’t require us to fully understand what we are feeling but allows for these emotions to have a safe release – like the steam valve on a pressure cooker. Play provides the rest we need when we are under duress. We need islands of reprieve where we can gather our strength for what lies ahead.

I have turned to play often during Covid to help soften my emotions and provide some release so that I can eventually find my words or tears again. I have turned myself towards nature and walking through tall trees who remind me that life doesn’t need to move fast to be meaningful. I have given myself to growing vegetables for my family on a larger scale than I usually do, and find comfort in the fruits of my labour and sharing them with others. I have returned to my sewing, my drawing, and my music to help carry my emotions through this storm as well. As I turn to play to help carry me, I am better at carrying my children through their troubles and have more to give to others too. It seems the challenge we face when experiencing hard times it not just the adversity itself but that we have become lost in knowing what we need most at these times. We need our tears and we need each other in these times and there is nothing better than play in providing a way through on both of these fronts.

During Covid, our PK Beans friend and mentor, Dr. MacNamara, created a playful environment for her 2 daughters, Hannah and Madeline, with supporting us in the creation of our new Lil Bean doll clothes. We shipped her fabrics from well-loved beans, and she turned these scrap garments that could have ended up in a landfill and turned it into a creative healing project for herself and her daughters. Here are a few of the Lil Beans Dr. Deb, Hannah, and Madeline produced. 

Dr. Deborah MacNamara is a Clinical Counsellor and Developmentalist, on Faculty at the Neufeld Institute and Director of Kid’s Best Bet, a counselling centre for families. She is author of the best selling book Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers (or anyone who acts like one), Rest, Play, Grow makes sense of young children through developmental science and is what every child wished their adults understood about them.  Her first children’s picture book, The Sorry Plane, illustrated by Zoe Si, is available in English and soon to be Russian. The Sorry Plane is about respecting the feelings of children and supporting their emotional development.

Deborah is a dynamic teacher and experienced counsellor who makes developmental science come to life in the everyday context of home and classroom, including complex behavioral and learning problems.