The Importance of Being a Playful Adult

Tanya Valentin, wearing sunglasses and a sunhat being a playful adult

Happy New Year to all of you! (I hope that it is still okay to say “Happy New Year” in February!!!) Hasn’t the summer weather been amazing? I hope that you all had some well-deserved time over the festive season to unwind, have fun and recharge your batteries. I am sure for some of you the holidays are fond and distant memory.

I am one of those shameless summer lovers. I know that it is hot, but I try my best to get the most out of the beautiful kiwi summer. I am really grateful for our amazing uncrowded beaches and native bush especially in my new home Northland.

a person having fun with a boogie board and the ocean in the distances

Me the sea and a boogie board…

I have been reflecting lately about the importance of being and staying a playful adult. You see, I have this boogie board that my hubby bought me for Christmas 10 years ago. It is a bit banged up and faded but it is still going. It is without a doubt, one of the all-time favourite gifts that anyone has ever given me – because it allows me to be playful.

If you have read some of my earlier posts, you would know that the ocean is a special, magical place for me. When I am at the beach it is impossible for me to feel angry or stressed. In fact, just looking out at the ocean has a calming, rejuvenating effect on me.

When I am in the ocean with my board, I am able to be fully present in the moment, enveloped in the sensations that only swimming in the waves can give you. The pure joy of being alive and in this place in time, connected to all that is.

Sometimes I play with my children in the waves, or I become one with the surf and I catch a wave into the shore. Often, I will just float for a moment without a care in the world. I absolutely love the feeling of being one with the effortless flow of nature, whether bobbing up in the water with the sun on my skin or catching a wave.

Life lessons from the ocean

There are lessons that I have learnt from my time in the waves; about life, but also about my dispositions as a person.

I have learnt that if you are swimming or surfing in the ocean that you have to be fully focused and present. One of the reasons is safety, if take your eyes off the waves or the shoreline this could spell disaster. You could be caught unawares by a big wave or you could get caught up in a dangerous undercurrent or rip. You have to be fully present to changing tides and read the cycle of the swells in order to catch the perfect wave. If you catch the wave too soon or too late – never mind, there always another opportunity with the next wave. It is an incredibly mindful experience, even if you have other people around you it is just you and the wave, and it is up to you as to whether or not you will rise to the invitation to take the risk and play.

The same could be said for our life’s journey. We need to be focused on the here and now. We need to be mindful of the subtle changes in our thoughts and attitudes as well as the tides and undercurrents of those around us. If we remain present and in the moment, we are anchored into the joy of the here and now. Even though others are around us we are walking with us, we are all on our own journey, catching our own waves making our own decisions alongside others. Ultimately, we responsible for our own lives, the risks we take, how we play as well as our own happiness.

Another lesson I have learnt is about control and fear. When you are standing in front of a huge wave, you can either be fearful of the wave and try to get out of the way or stubbornly stand your ground. Either way this ends in being bowled over by the wave or for it to pummel into you painfully. Or you can surrender control and catch the wave – you experience the joy and exhilaration of the present moment, moving in perfect balance with nature and what was meant to be. In life we can give into fear and end up “doing” life instead of listening to our intuition and living in “what else is possible?”

Isn’t that what play is? Not overthinking things, not trying to control the situation but going with the flow, having fun and discovering the pleasure and joy in the moment and perhaps learning something about ourselves and others along the way.A

Your body cannot heal without play. Your mind cannot heal without laughter. Your soul cannot heal without joy.

Catherine Rippenger
two hands forming a heart over the ocean - being playful can bring you joy and happiness

Allow uninterrupted time for play


When I think about being a playful adult I think about what Dr Emmi Pikler said about allowing children uninterrupted time for play as well as the exploration goal in Te Whariki :

Children experience an environment where their play is valued as meaningful learning and the importance of spontaneous play is recognised.

Ministry of Education, 2017, pg 47

As early childhood teachers we know the powerful learning benefits of free, interrupted play for children. Often when we get caught up in the grown-up business of being busy or in our efforts to being viewed as “professional” we forget the simple joy of play and being playful adults.

As we strive for recognition for our profession, we can often dismiss others outside our profession who say, “aren’t you lucky that you get to play with children all day!”  We can often take offence and try to convince the other person and ourselves about the seriousness and importance of our role. 

I for one, value my role and the important job that all of us as early childhood professionals do. I know that there are times where we need to be serious and responsible, but…… I am extremely grateful to have a job that allows me to play, be creative, imaginative and joyful.  I count myself lucky to work in a profession that allows me to come to work in my pyjamas, or with crazy hair, or brandishing a cape!

Being playful at crazy hair day

As adults we need to time to for “free play”, for enjoyment, for creativity, for innovation and creative problem solving.  Play keeps us young, builds resilience and helps us to stay excited about life and full of wonder.

Time for “play” daily inside our settings as well as outside of the environment of the early childhood setting as a team builds relationships and comradery. 

After all a team that plays together, stays together.

It is important to gift ourselves the time and flexibility to learn and to be creative.  Brain research has proven that we are far more likely to learn something new when we feel safe and are having fun.  Play comes naturally to human beings, it allows us to experience joy, think outside the box and to be better critical thinkers. Playful people are often happier and have better quality relationships.

Feeling safe and having fun is great for team cultures, as feel good hormones such as Serotonin and Oxycontin get released into our bodies which boosts our confidence in ourselves and our collective pride in our teams, strengthens our relationships and builds trust and co-operation amongst team members. 

A team who plays together and who have strong relationships and high levels of trust and co-operation are more capable of being there for each other and get through tough times or disagreements. They are more present for the children in their settings and are powerful role models as to the importance of play, team work and how to have strong healthy relationships with each other.

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing

George Bernard Shaw

Over to you…

So how playful are you?

How will you allow yourself uninterrupted time for play this weekend?

I would love to hear your thoughts and reflections on the quality of your play.

So until we meet again… I hope that you find time do something that leaves your feet dirty, your hair messy, your heart racing and your eyes sparkling.