Ten Ways Adults Can Be More Playful

10 Ways Adults Can be More Playful

10 Ways Adults Can be More Playful

With Kathleen Alfano

Play is an important part of childhood … but it’s a critical component to adulthood as well! Kathleen Alfano, Child Development and Play Expert, explains the benefits that play offers people of all ages and offers some tips on how to incorporate play into your day.

The genius of play is that it has profound benefits for all ages. Babies and young children explore their own little world and learn new things about it and themselves through play. Preschool-age and older children practice life skills and develop their bodies, minds and social skills (such as the ability to work in groups, share, negotiate and resolve conflicts) through play. Continuing through adolescence and adulthood, play contributes to being a well-rounded and joyful person.

Even though we are busy with everyday responsibilities and schedules, it is important to carve out time for leisure — if not daily, then at least throughout the week. Research shows that being playful is a key way to get more out of life. In her book “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time,” one of the things Brigid Schulte examines is research about the science of play and why it’s what makes us more whole.

Play empowers people to be flexible thinkers, creative, young-at-heart and free-spirited. It provides an opportunity for pure enjoyment and doesn’t need structure. Play is free-flowing fun that unleashes our imagination.

Although play often happens spontaneously, planning time for play ensures that you do. We need time to unwind from our tight schedules and hectic lives. Sometimes just observing children at play and listening to their self-talk or conversations with their playmates can transport us into their imaginative world, and along with that, cause us to stop and enjoy the moment.

An example of experiencing the moment is a recent play episode that involved my niece and her five-year-old daughter. I was helping them organize after their move to a new home, and we were putting away clothes and toys. All of a sudden, this became an imaginative shopping experience for the little one who was pretending to buy some of the items that were out and ready to be put away. She had her own view of the situation! So, while we continued our organizing work, we incorporated that theme and had more fun in the process.

“Engaged play increases your happiness, aligns you with your deepest needs and is a huge predictor of your well-being.”

In his book “Don’t Miss Your Life,” Joe Robinson writes that life satisfaction is more likely to come from your personal life than from your professional life. His research shows that engaged play increases your happiness, aligns you with your deepest needs and is a huge predictor of your well-being.

If we let it, play can transform our attitude and allow us to enjoy life more fully. There is a saying that play is a child’s work. But that can be true for adults as well. To that point, many companies are encouraging employees to incorporate mental breaks and physical activities into their workday, providing opportunities for them to take care of themselves so that they won’t be “all work and no play.” According to the website Project: Time Off, taking earned time off is essential for a productive workforce, strong bonds with family and friends, and a fulfilled life. Research suggests that without play, it is difficult to present your best self at work or at home.

Having time for play is as important for adults as it is for children — so make play part of your day! Here are 10 tips for being more playful:

  • Use unscheduled time to be creative, to daydream, reflect and decompress
  • Appreciate playtime – whether it’s alone or with other adults or children
  • Smile and laugh often throughout the day
  • Try new things and experience the unexpected
  • Participate in a variety of arts/sports/activities whenever you can to expand your horizons
  • Make mental connections (e.g., “how else can I use this,” “what else can this do?”)
  • Sing and dance just for the fun of it
  • Spend time with the children in your life, observing them as they play, listening to their conversation, and following their train of thought
  • Cultivate a happy, joyful, positive attitude, full of gratitude for even the smallest, everyday things
  • Plan to make play part of your day, whether it is indoor or outdoor, solo or social, active or quiet

Kathleen Alfano is a child development and play specialist, with 35 years in the toy industry, Kathleen Alfano is a well-known expert in the field of early childhood, child development, play patterns, age grade determinations of toys and children’s products, and trends in play and parenting. Dr. Alfano possesses a keen understanding and awareness of cultural similarities and differences of children around the world through her travel to over 40 countries for the purpose of researching children at play. Author of numerous articles, she is a sought after speaker at national and international conferences. Her motto is: MAKE PLAY PART OF YOUR DAY.

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Encourage Pretend Play from PBS Parents

It’s important for parents and care givers to recognize that one of the ways children cope most naturally is to play about what they’ve seen and experienced. Difficult times often leave children with deep and confusing feelings, so playing about such a time afterwards can be a way of safely reliving something that was hard for them to experience. Pretend play gives children a chance to rehearse events that may be worrisome to them and to work on their feelings about the world around them and their place in it.

encourage pretend play

How You Can Support Pretend Play:

Provide plenty of time and space for play.

If possible, have some props available: dolls, blocks, blankets, scarves, puppets, wheeled toys, tables, or large box or tent;  open-ended toys.

Encourage children to use their own ideas or make believe for their pretend play.

Remind them (and yourself) that “this is only pretend”. When children know that adults value their creative play, they can use their play ideas and actions to work on understanding what’s happened, what’s still the same, and what’s now different.

Through play, they can develop thinking and problem-solving skills that can be transferred to everyday, real-life coping.


For children, play is both a serious and necessary business: a way for them to try on different roles, pretend to be bigger than they really are, stronger than they really are, or even, at times, smaller than they really are.” (Fred Rogers)

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