Everyone who knows me -- and even strangers at Starbucks! -- know that I've researched and blogged about adult play behavior. One guest lecture by Stuart Brown (psychiatrist and founder of the National Institute for Play) back in 2006 literally changed my life.
I got to hear this amazing TED talk nine years before its debut.
Which is why a lot of people have been asking my thoughts about the new "adult preschool" in Brooklyn. Or the new "adult coloring book" trend (last week, the two best-selling books on Amazon were adult coloring books). Or the Camp Grounded Summer Camp for Adults.
My thoughts? I am totally, completely on-board with Camp Grounded, a "digital detox zone" where adults participate in activities like:
Archery | Water Color | Origami | Mask Making | Loom & Weave | Physics 101 | Rockwall | Poetry | Crochet | Non-Violent Communication | Charcoal Drawing | Mindfulness w/ Technology | Solar Carving | Capoeira | Pickling | Improv | Potato Printing | Tie-Dye | Laughter Yoga | Acro-Yoga | Drawing 101 | Candle Making | Intro to Pranayma | Beadwork | Beatboxing | Mobile Making | Pinhole Photography | Songwriting | Creative Writing w/ Typewriters | Superfood Truffle Making | Baking | Nature Hike | Hip-Hop Dance Class | A Capella Harmony | Basket Weaving | Ballroom Dance | Stilt Walking | Sign Language | Shadow Puppet Theatre | Thai Massage 101 Tea Tasting | Ukulele 101
I believe that this camp is absolutely worth every penny -- look at all of the interesting physical and artistic challenges they provide! Not to mention its location in the beautiful Hendy Woods up near Mendocino, CA.
But let's get one thing straight. There is a huge difference between adult play... and infantilizing adults.
Anyone who's spent any time watching children play knows that children play like it's their job. They play hard. They squint with concentration when they're coloring or molding clay. They mutter to themselves as they stack blocks (psychologists call this private speech or "self talk," and kids use it self-guidance and self-regulation during a difficult task). They run so fast they fall and start tumbling breathlessly down the hill. And they love every minute of it!
Because in order to achieve "flow," (a term used in positive psychology to describe a mental state of operation in which a person is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of an activity) a person must achieve the right level of challenge and mastery. If something is too hard, it will be frustrating. If something is too easy, it will be boring. Think of it this way:
In other words, if you want to become completely, joyfully involved in an activity, you've got to Baby Bear it. You've got to get the challenge/mastery balance juuuuust right.
The top result when I image-searched "baby bear just right." Papa Bear's got guns!
If you're three years old, finger paints and coloring are totally challenging. It takes focus to develop that hand-eye coordination to keep your fingers steady and stay inside the lines. But, presumably, if you're an adult, your physical and mental development have progressed past this stage.
So please, playful adults of the world -- don't waste your $333 (or more!) on "adult preschool." Here are some awesome adult play experiences that you can try instead:
Instead of coloring books, try knitting, woodworking or cake decorating.
You're an adult. You know how to stay inside the lines. So spend your time and money on supplies and lessons, so you can learn a fun, challenging new skill. Then knit sweaters for all your friends! Make an awesome birthday cake -- or, at the very least, an epic fail of a birthday cake:
I just finished a Dog Photography class on Craftsy, a Boulder-based started that provides free and cheap online art classes. You can also buy kits with all the supplies you will need. For best results, take the class with friends! We're social beings, and that's one thing "adult preschool" gets right.
So try that! Or, get on Groupon and see what kinds of classes are being offered near you.
A quick search of "Things to Do" in San Francisco revealed:
And literally hundreds more.
A similar search in New York City revealed:
And hundreds more.
Instead of finger painting, try music making or improv.
Children love imaginary, creative play. And that's an energy many adults are sorely lacking in their lives. Playing in a toy kitchen or pretending we're puppies just doesn't do it for us anymore. But that doesn't mean we can't use our imaginations.
Let's talk about improv for a second. It's probably the closest thing to imaginary play adults can get. Typically, improvisers get a prompt for a place, object, relationship or situation -- and then they "act" out a scene on the spot. There are also opportunities for improv in music -- in rock, jazz, rap and other genres.
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University recently put jazz and rap improvisers into MRI machines and had them play either scripted or improvised music. The brain scans showed that, even when improvising simple scales, the musicians' brains behaved very differently. The dorsolateral pre-frontal cortex (PFC), which is responsible for self-censorship, decreased in activity. The medial PFC, responsible for creativity, self-expression and intuition, got more active.
In other words, improv changes how your brain works!
And if you're terrible at it now... keep at it! You'll definitely improve as you practice more and learn "the rules." Yes, "rules." Just as children's imaginary play is guided by rules that they establish at the beginning of play (e.g., "I'm the mom, and you're the baby," "We're fairies, and we can all fly!" "You're the shark, and we are swimmers -- but that table is the island, and you can't get us there!"), so is musical and spoken improve guided by a set of mutually-understood guidelines. For example, in spoken improv, an actor is never supposed to say no. Any gesture or suggestion by another actor must be followed-up with a "Yes, and..." In musical improv, different scales, rhythms and rhyming schemes help performers create relatable, collaborative music together on the fly.
And! It provides many professional and psychological benefits, including:
Tina Fey (the brilliant mind behind The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and creator of some of the best possible advice for women ever) wrote some insights about improv that I feel must be shared:
Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. We’ve all worked with that person. That person is a drag. It’s usually the same person around the office who says things like “There’s no calories in it if you eat it standing up!” and “I felt menaced when Terry raised her voice.”
Outside of the bedroom, improv and music-making may be the only opportunity for imaginary play that most adults have. Embrace it! Join an improv group, or take an improv class. Google improv groups/lessons near you, or check Meetups. Wherever you are in the country, there is almost certainly improv near you.
Or, if you're not currently musical... why not take a few music lessons? You can learn how to play most guitar songs on youtube. Or you can take lessons from a real teacher -- check Craigslist, your local classifieds, or just Google it. I don't currently take any music lessons, because I can already play piano, guitar and tenor sax relatively well. But I have been pushing myself to get a little more deeply involved with my instruments by writing, rather than just playing, music. It feels good to create something new... and it's been an interesting way to explore my memories, imagination and feelings.
Finally, no matter HOW musical you are... there is probably a place for you at karaoke.
Especially if you wear silly little hats.
The TL;DR is that "adult preschool" is a waste of your time and money. Get yourself in a playful, curious and creative mindset... and then find a way to express and challenge yourself. Trust me. It'll be amazing.
Got a favorite way to play like a child? Have you instituted your own "adult recess?" I want to know! Share your brilliance in the comments.
Or, if you want to know more, learn how to "build" your own adult playground. And if you want to re-capture the joy of recess, read this.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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