Let's Play

Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli
Let's Play

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the joy (and importance) of play. I did a workshop at a conference recently called “Youth At Heart,” where we examined what happens to us when we just let ourselves play, or when we try to connect with that youthful spirit that exists somewhere inside of us. For many of us, that youthful spirit still dances near the surface—it’s the part of us that can't help but giggle when we hear someone say “do do”. For others, that youthful spirit is a bit farther away and harder to access.

Many researchers are speaking out about the positive benefits of play, including Dr. Stuart Brown from the National Institute for Play. He makes compelling arguments about the transforming power of play, both for the workforce and for our health and well-being. But if you don’t have time to read his book or listen to his speeches, you can still discover this truth for yourself…  by actually allowing yourself time to play. When’s the last time you played a game of hide and seek? I did so last weekend with my 6 and 3 year olds and while resistant at first, I found myself quickly immersed in trying to find a hiding spot far away from their prying eyes.  Forgotten was my I-Phone with its persistent pingings of Facebook posts and emails; worries about a meeting the next week or a lingering task faded into the background.

Feel like you don’t have time for play? Yes you do. At home or on the job, I assure you, you do. Feel like you're too old to play?  I assure you, you're not.  Here are ten starter ideas for incorporating play into your day, based on some of our favorite types of play from childhood.   Hopefully this list will get your mind thinking of your own daily opportunities for play.

Coloring!  Fresh Crayons!  What was better than that?   So, start your next staff meeting by having your team color with crayons and coloring pages. Or while your family is waiting for dinner, have crayons and coloring books on the table.  Keep crayons in your purse for moments when you're waiting-- at the doctor's office or the BMV line.  This simple activity is grounding, and also provides an opportunity for quiet reflection.

Beach Balls!  Soccer Balls!  Footballs!  We loved to play catch, to toss a ball around.   Have to get answers from your team about something? Instead of calling on a show of hands, toss a beach ball around the room to illicit responses.  Want to determine how much your group understands a topic?  Toss a soft ball around the room in a game of hot potato.   Keep a ball at your desk and when you're grappling with a question or an issue just toss it around for awhile.

Playing Dress Up!   Our imaginations were fierce when we adorned ourselves as princesses or firemen or pirates or "grown ups." Conducting an exercise in visioning and goal setting? Get some costume pieces for your team to adorn to get them in an imaginative state of mind.  Trying to lighten the mood?  Have your team put on mustaches or colorful beads.

Silliness!  The sillier, the better.  The goofier, the more it made us laugh.  Got an extra 5 minutes? Challenge a colleague or friend to a game of thumb war, ‘Chubby Bunny,’ rock/paper/scissors, or tic tac toe.  Go to work wearing mismatched socks.  Purchase a pen that has a gigantic flower at the top of it.

Puppets!  Art!  Creativity!  Of course we were artists; that wasn't even a question.  Have your team make puppets out of brown paper bags to represent and introduce themselves.  Challenge your team to create a group collage based on a common project or goal.   Give your team purple pens and have them read Harold and the Purple Crayon.

Discovery!  Our curiosities were never more ripe than in childhood.  In the car with a child, spouse, or colleague? Play a game of I-Spy, or simply decide on an object that you are all going to try and find (American flags are great for this).  Send your team on a scavenger hunt.  Challenge yourself to find three things you've never seen before on your typical commute to work.   Discover a new food store.

Board Games!  Our competitive spirits are fostered early... so why not bring board games into the board room?  Trying to update a team?  Do it via charades or pictionary.   Develop a weekly game night with friends.

Did I mention hide and seek? Seriously.

Building Blocks! Legos! Have your team build something with legos while also discussing a topic of importance. Or just spend some time playing with legos, whether by yourself, with a partner, or with kids.

Dancing!  30 second dance party.  Enough said.

What, when you see it today, ignites the inner child in you?  Balloons?  Candy?  Glitter? Christmas lights? A shiny wrapped present? A gigantic hot fudge sundae?  A shelf filled with school supplies?  A certain song?  Think about how you can actively involve those things in your day.

Allowing yourself the space to play, or to be playful, may seem silly or even disingenuous. But if you actually give in to it, it won’t take long for you to notice changes in the way you feel—in mind, body, and in spirit.

Don’t believe me? Give it a try. I triple dog dare you.

How can you play today? 


Interested in having Erika’s blog come directly to your e-mail each Tuesday? Have comments to share?  E-mail her at erika@tlpnyc.com.   Find all her previous blog posts at www.tlpnyc.com/author/erika


Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.