Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul Paperback – Apr 6 2010
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About the Author
Stuart Brown, M.D. is a medical doctor, psychiatrist, clinical researcher, and the founder of the National Institute for Play. He speaks regularly to Fortune 500 companies and groups across the country on the significance of play in our lives. The producer of a three-part PBS series, The Promise of Play, he has also appeared on NPR and was featured in a front-page story in The New York Times Magazine. He lives in Carmel Valley, California.
Christopher Vaughan has been a journalist for more than twenty years. He cowrote the national bestseller The Promise of Sleep.
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I've always believed "play" is the key to a successful life. The successful people I know enjoy playing( including my husband who is "the Kinesthete", "The Explorer", "The Collector", "The Artist/Creator", and "The Storyteller" according to Dr. Brown's play personality) even though they are busier than average Americans. On the other hand, the people who have rigid attitude towards "play" (they even make family members feel guilty about it!) are not as successful as above, even though they "earned highest grades at the best schools". This contrast becomes even more prominent when we become middle age. People who enjoy playing are not only more successful, but also happier.
Dr. Brown explains why this "'nonproductive activity can make one enormously more productive and invigorated in other aspects of life" with scientific evidence and full of interesting anecdotes. It will persuade you not to feel guilty pursuing your dream or enjoying your life because it will make you and your kids more successful and happier.
Most days, I just wanted to play. But how to justify this? I am expected to help kids read and write and do well on standardized tests. The kids very often hate me for my troubles. I don't blame them. The dank workbooks of generations gone by are of no relevance to them. Or me.
At the end of the school year, I taught my kids origami as a break from the norm. They relaxed and loved it and were delighted with themselves that they could turn scrap paper into beautiful things. They helped each other by explaining--by taking the story--the instructions--and putting it in their own words to help a peer. And they were playing.
This experience brought me to Brown's book. He talks about the importance of play in problem solving, social interaction, and, to use a broad brush, surviving this world in a healthy way.
Letting go and relaxing through play free the mind to reach beyond itself and thus find answers. Serendipity.
Brown's book is full of examples of serendipity in action in the science lab, the corporate conference room, the home sweet home. Play unlocks the mind, lets it sample possibilities, lets it seek and find a new level of possibilities. Play makes dreams come true.
Brown makes the statement that we start dying when we stop playing. He's right. His book makes the truth of the statement abundantly clear.
However, the main problem of the book, at least for me, is that most of the information in the book seems like typical common knowledge that I've already saw and read before in other places: newspapers, parenthood magazines, popular TV shows, etc. For example of so called common knowledge I can give the importance of cubs play in the animal kingdom to the development of hunting skills or social status. In addition, as the definition of "play" in the book is an extremely general one, basically almost every day activity, under some assumptions, can be classified as "play". As such the author can interpret almost every behavior as play and arrive to various conclusions.
Another problem is that the book feels at times, especially while reading part two, as a regular "live better" or "personal enlightenment" type of reading which describes simplified insights like that it is better if your daily work resembles a play (with the typical examples such as a doctor who started to bake breads as an hobby to eventually quitting his job at the hospital to develop his bread business). I guess we all know it, but I expected the book to present a more scientific insights to that common knowledge, but couldn't find any.
One thing that was indeed interesting but not well developed is the part of "play personality". That was a very interesting theory, even though the author itself say that it is just his theory and other researchers can preach to different classification. This part actually left me wanting more information and some further implications (e.g., what does it say about your personality in general? What kind of players each personality should be paired with?). I think that future research in that direction should be a very interesting one, and I will sure want to read a book that goes into depth in that direction.
To sum up, I would say that the author, probably as a consequence of trying to make the book very accessible, ended up with a kind of a story-telling, self-enlightening book instead of a "popular science" one. Most of the information is probably already known to most readers, while there are not allot of discussions about the science of play as one would expect from the title.