Full PreFrontal

Ep. 91: Big Picture 6 - No Ordinary Play

October 15, 2019 Sucheta Kamath Season 1 Episode 91
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 91: Big Picture 6 - No Ordinary Play
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 91: Big Picture 6 - No Ordinary Play
Oct 15, 2019 Season 1 Episode 91
Sucheta Kamath

According to Dr. Stuart Brown, “divinely superfluous neurons” orchestrate a seemingly purposeless voluntary act that we call play. But let’s not underestimate the necessity and impact of play on the developing mind and overall human flourishing. Even though play is natural to babies, exciting to children, and helpful to even adults, not everyone gets equal opportunity to play and those who grow up with play deficits are known to either behave inflexibly or experience mild chronic depression.

In this big-picture episode, Sucheta will discuss the value of the everyday human experience of play that leads to playfulness in home and work life. Sucheta’s friends, Lisa & Laurie, will share their childhood memories that will be sure put a smile on your face. I hope you’re inspired to value play as you solve problems and think flexibly for everyday success.

Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Show Notes Transcript

According to Dr. Stuart Brown, “divinely superfluous neurons” orchestrate a seemingly purposeless voluntary act that we call play. But let’s not underestimate the necessity and impact of play on the developing mind and overall human flourishing. Even though play is natural to babies, exciting to children, and helpful to even adults, not everyone gets equal opportunity to play and those who grow up with play deficits are known to either behave inflexibly or experience mild chronic depression.

In this big-picture episode, Sucheta will discuss the value of the everyday human experience of play that leads to playfulness in home and work life. Sucheta’s friends, Lisa & Laurie, will share their childhood memories that will be sure put a smile on your face. I hope you’re inspired to value play as you solve problems and think flexibly for everyday success.

Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Producer: Welcome back to Full PreFrontal where we are exposing the mysteries of executive function. As always I’m here with our host, Sucheta Kamath.

Good morning, my friend, looking forward to our conversation today.

Sucheta Kamath: Good morning, how are you, Todd? So excited to be with you.

Producer: Well, this is going to be a really fun conversation on this special addition Big Picture episode. We are going to talk about no ordinary play today, what a fun conversation. So gosh, I guess in thinking about this topic, and I don’t really need a definition of play, but looking at it from the perspective of science, what is play? What do we need to know about it?

Sucheta: Yes, I know you probably was a little surprised when I chose this topic and maybe the listeners too, but I thought we are always talking about something very serious, but something fun and meaningful, and lively which has incredible value to executive function, we must talk, so yes, here we are discussing play.

So, this entire episode, by the way, was inspired by the work of a very famous psychiatrist Stuart Brown who was the founder of the National Institute of Play who also has a book by that name called Play. So, Oxford Dictionary has at least 50 definitions of the word “play,” but to start with, play is anything that spontaneously is done for its own sake. This definition can be further expanded into more and more detailed definitions which include words like “purposeless activity,” “produces pleasure and joy,” but play may look like a seemingly purposeless voluntary act that is fun to do, but the emphasis is on apparently purposeless act because unlike other basic drives where eating, sleeping, resting, play does not appear to be a must for survival, but we are wrong there; it’s taken a lot of time for the scientists to see the connection why mammals play, particularly all those animals including humans who live in groups have found play to have an important role, so it has an inherent quality of boundlessness and it harbors potential for improvisation such that in essence, play is a shapeless activity that can be shaped into anything we want it to be.

Producer: Well, I mean, play is play – we all have an immediate image that comes to mind when we think of that, but we have to take it very seriously, yes?

Sucheta: Yes, so scientists including biologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, they all are beginning to understand that play has a primary role in human development and it’s starting to have a role of building blocks for empathy. Play is inherently attractive as it looks in the desire to keep on going and it fires off endorphins in the brain which is what gives a great sense of joy and happiness, but it also helps one connect with others, offers healing, builds social understanding, and it helps in learning effectively which in fact translates into forming bonds with others. So, it might sound like I’m on my soapbox, but I’m really a big fan of play, so let’s bring play back, let’s bring recess back, let’s bring physical education, music, games, art, etc. back into the classrooms, into the child’s education, and more importantly, Todd, parents need to really liberate their children and allow them to have free play, particularly rough and tumble which looks, on the surface, a little bit of a hard play, but it’s not.

Producer: Well, I recall recess from my childhood and now that I understand its power, recess should never have gone away as adults, so obviously, play is very important, but there’s a lot of people out there who think otherwise – my mom told me a million stories about how the nuns in her Catholic school, play was not part of the expectation. They seemed to would rather have kids be seen and not heard.

Sucheta: Yes, and I grew up in India and we were also kind of playing quietly, it was really emphasized somehow that being rough and loud was somehow obnoxious or rude, or unhealthy – I don’t know, but the bad rap comes from this rough and tumble play which often appears aggressive or dangerous, but that has a very important role in human development. Animals seem to be doing it, humans do it, there’s a particular posturing that goes on that also shows that you are ready to pounce on somebody but that pounce is not an attack, so this is all done in effort to gain a handle on situations. Rough-and-tumble play, for example, teaches how to kind of develop socially and understand how to handle aggression. So, it’s kind of a pretend aggression to prepare yourself for the real aggression.

Throughout centuries, the myth about play though has spread like fire. Somehow, it appears that it’s useless and directionless, and such myths perpetuate this thought process that play is unimportant, is a frivolous act, something that has to be done, and it’s because it looks purposeless, it’s meaningless. So, that’s why, I don’t know if you know, you don’t have kids, but when my kids were born and we were raising them, there was like a big movement to buy these Einstein motivated musical toys and things like that, so people are now over correcting and doing structured play, like instead of free play. So, yes, we do need to kind of wipe out some of these misconceptions.

Producer: So, I’m still thinking about when you said that we are wired to play and it makes me better understand sometimes when I just happen to be in a playful mood or I observe my dog suddenly start doing some goofy playful stuff. Because of this being wired, I’m assuming that we send play signals out to each other?

Sucheta: Yeah, and you know I’ve been reading a lot in preparation for this, but I’ve also been thinking a lot about this, particularly working with children and adults with executive dysfunction. The idea of taming children who are misbehaving or who are rambunctious, there’s a lot of effort focused on discipline and quieting down their movements, and what is lost is this evolutionary brain that requires – this brain grew exponentially when humans became culturally attuned, so when the culture came about, the culture is nothing but navigating social interactions in group living, and play became a very critical part of navigating that culture. So, it’s an essential element of shaping the brain’s infrastructure and in return, it shapes the organism’s brain and makes it even more robustly wired.

Jane Goodall once said that is giving youngsters practice, this kind of play gives youngsters practice the kind of skills you need to become adults. All animals are social and hence, play is critical. So, play certainly makes us stronger and more adaptable, it enables us social sustainable skills that allow you to be sustaining relationships in social context, and it fuels creativity and innovation, and you will hear about that in a minute when we have a little bit of an innovative approach to today’s podcast which is my way of playing with the podcast.

So, finally, there are two ways to think about the act of play and how it serves a vital function. First, it’s an anxiety-free activity. That means it takes your mind off of stresses and worry, without having to define goals, and second, it gives you an opportunity to simulate the future, so that’s why play has an incredible evolutionary role.

Producer: Boy, I’m awash in memories of my childhood now listening to you talk and remembering all my playful experiences, but I have to guess that we played earlier, right? I mean, there’s play between a mother and child, right, that gaze into each other’s eyes for, I don’t know, maybe there’s no specific reason, but it’s always quite a beautiful thing to watch, but that is play, isn’t it?

Sucheta: Oh, yes, and you know what, you are describing, and so astute of you, you’re describing something called attunement. Psychologist talk a lot about attunement. This is being in harmony with the other, and so the early play is between mother and a child, and in fact, children with autism, children with any social emotional disorders tend to have poor attunement which again, one of the elements of that attunement is being in synchrony with the other, emotional synchrony, and the eyes are locked in, this kind of play strengthens the emotional bond between the two parties that are involved.

So, I remember my father who was a chess champion, he had a great knack for play and he used to play chess, he used to play bridge, and then he also, as he became very busy and we were teenagers, he would have these bridge championships and practices, so he used to travel all around the world – no, not the world but India to take part in bridge competitions, and he would have a partner, and what fascinated me is there would be two teams, so two pairs would show up and then they would play this bridge, and I don’t know much about bridge but it would go on and on, and my father to me, what looked like, was not as sharp as my father was, but my father had him as a partner and he would yell and scream, and the game would be over, and then there would be shouting and screaming and he would be discussing, like “Why didn’t you do this? Why didn’t you do that?” and they both had like a secret meeting. They would step out on the deck and they would have a little quick powwow and send a new set of signals and they would go back and start a new game. It was hilarious because in that moment, I would see my father who was 50 then would be fighting like a child and yelling and screaming, and then making up, and it also kind of conspiring against the other team.

So yes, this kind of attunement continues throughout our life and brings a great sense of joy and closeness to the other.

Producer: Lots to think about here. Now, I’m assuming that both parents and our teachers should be equally interested in watching and certainly promoting play if they want to see their kids or the students grow and thrive. I mean, so what should they be thinking about when they are doing this?

Sucheta: You know, that’s a very interesting question and an important one because we are here talking about executive function, I want to circle back to this idea, executive function is kind of pursuing your goals by organizing your thoughts and organizing your steps, and creating a path to attain the goals that you have for self, and along the way, what is a really critical element is problem-solving: how do you handle the challenges that you run into? And those kinds of things are best done where most learning happens, which is in school, so the parents and educators are keenly interested into areas of growth in school-age children. One, how they master academics and second, how they interact and relate to their peers and form bonds, right? So, one without the other will truly be an incomplete childhood experience.

So, the research shows that early play engagements and pro-social behaviors protect and directly contribute to children’s developmental trajectories in social and academic domains, so pro-socialness in play really can be listed as cooperating, helping, sharing, consoling, and if it’s not done well, then it might be considered as being antisocial. So, if a child that does not get enough exposure and experience, and really, joy of play, they tend to be prone to verbal and physical aggression, so it’s really, really important.

Producer: Well, hearing all this, now, I can’t even imagine a childhood where a child has not been able to play. I mean, I can’t even fathom. I suppose not playing or not engaging in playful activities is probably quite harmful, yes?

Sucheta: Yeah, and you know, it’s so interesting. Dr. Stuart Brown that I mentioned at the top of the episode here, his work started by studying prisoners, so people who were in death row, and he began to investigate a lot of social psychological problems that they had which brought the aggression and hostility, and they acted on it not having regard for how these actions impact the other, and one consistent theme that emerged was very poor exposure to play or very poor play life in childhood. So, for certain, to play is to be human and as we have been talking about here, play keeps mind and brain flexible to cope with the constantly changing world, and play is what leads to lightheartedness, empathy, optimism, hopefulness for the future, and adaptability, and by the way, all this, Dr. Stuart describes it this way, but I feel that those who grow up with a play deficit often experience mild and chronic depression, and they often have experiences of inflexibility or others around them might describe inflexibility, so such individuals can be difficult to deal with, so it’s really, really important for us to think about this underexposure to play can be harmful.

Producer: Well, as I said earlier, all I can think about now is all the play I did as a child, and a couple of things come to mind. I remember enormous amounts of physical activity, so I never realize how helpful that was in terms of developing strength and health and vigor as a child and running around in this activity that I worry today’s kids are not getting. I’m thinking about all the building I did – Legos, link-a-mugs and blocks, and all that, and I now realize that that was fueling my creativity, and this is everything – I never realized how important it was, but hearing you talk earlier, I mean, the role-play that this is and the social training, I mean, I played house, I remember the girl –

Sucheta: Oh, did you?

Producer: I remember the girl who is my next-door neighbor, her name was Erin, she was probably my first crush but she was my wife and I was the husband, and I imagine, Sucheta, I mean, I’m not realizing –

Sucheta: So great!

Producer: But that was social training, was it not? I mean, I’m now realizing even more so how important this is.

Sucheta: Yeah, and I think you grew up as a single child, didn’t you?

Producer: Yes, I did.

Sucheta: So, this was even more critical.

Producer: Absolutely.

Sucheta: Yeah, so not having your siblings or your peers, I’m so happy to know that you had your neighbors, and even being a girl, you kind of connected and you deeply shared these activities that brought you together and allowed you to kind of sort out.

So, play is really where we sort things out, and this practice of having to sort out is nothing in the executive function context. We can talk about creating mental templates. So, the larger the repertoire of these mental templates, the greater the opportunities to come up with multiple solutions, and in the literature, this is often called as a play history. It’s a very wonderful exercise and those who are listening to this podcast, I highly encourage over dinner tonight, sit down with your loved one and ask them about their play history. That will tell you so much about their lives, as well as check it out if they had any play deficits, but you know, me, rather than just sharing this with you, why don’t we listen to this conversation that we recorded with Lisa and her sister Laurie? I can’t wait to just share that, and why don’t we listen to that now?


Sucheta: So, I have with me Lisa Campbell Harper and her sister Laurie Pennell, welcome, guys. I’m so happy to have you.

Laurie Pennell: Hey, thank you.

Lisa Campbell Harper: Great to be here.

Sucheta: So, can you share with us some of the things you did in your childhood and the way you played with each other? When you told me this casually in a conversation, it was so fascinating and I said to myself: we have to have our audience listen to it. So, tell us a little bit about that.

Lisa: Well, I was basically just describing that for us, play was just literally what we did all day every day, and often, our play was just this huge adventure, and mostly, the adventure was something that we created in our minds, but a large part of how we play was really just describing that adventure to each other, and while sometimes, we played with our dogs and we played house and we played sort of maybe everyday things, I think often, we played huge crises.

Laurie: That’s how I remember it.

Lisa: [17:40] or a flood or we were being chased, and a large part of our play was just describing, like who we were as characters, like maybe we were a mother and we had to have a very specific name and we had five children that we were carrying with us, and how old were they and what were their names?

Laurie: Oh, I think that was more like a dozen and those children had their pets and all they had to look around through.

Lisa: And then, we had to describe what was the scene while we were traversing through the mountains which might’ve been our backyard, and then we had to swing on a vine to get across this particular canyon which was the swing set or the trapeze on the swingset, and every little moment of whatever it was that we were playing had to be really thought through. We weren’t just wearing a dress, we were wearing a purple gingham dress with a strap here for the teddy bear to come into. That was very, very detailed.

Sucheta: So, Laurie, what do you remember, what’s it like for you?

Laurie: Well, I was a middle sister, so I learned a lot by watching the successes and mistakes of my older and younger sisters, but I remember that we read a lot of books and often, they were maybe many grades are higher than our age. Our parents were both kind of teacher personalities, and so we had a lot of books, a lot of educational toys and things like that, so I think it was the stories that we were reading that we were always acting out in our play, and by being younger, Lisa was often reading books that were a little more advanced than what I was reading, so maybe she was reading about Hitler, I was reading about birthday parties, and so some of those scenarios that she was reading about, since she was the older sister and the leader, she would put the scenarios that Hitler was coming and we’re playing Barbies, but we must help the Barbies escape Hitler, and so shoeboxes turned into barges and Barbies were tucked in and piled in on top of each other and we had to hurry, hurry, hurry because Hitler came, and as a younger child, I think I grew up not really knowing, what is this Hitler character? What are we escaping from? But I think it had a lot to do with reading and all the stories that Lisa was hearing, and that she would translate those into her play with her younger sisters.

Sucheta: I think that’s so exciting, and I mean, one of the things that really strikes out for me is you were experiencing these emotions that in an ordinary day you wouldn’t have, so if you are in a flood or fire, the crisis leads to this sense of anxiety and fear, and one of the benefits, and I don’t mean to bring neuroscience into this, but the experience of having to experience these emotions that are not invoked in daily activities is what makes play so much fun. You get to experience how to bounce back, so do you mind both you telling us a little bit about how did – I mean, this is a little bit of now connecting the dots here, but how would you say play influenced you as an adult, and what kind of role-play has in your life now?

Lisa: Well, I would say that I think for me, a large part of what I do every day in my professional role and even in my personal role in the family is around organizing and planning for long-term big things that may have many, many moving parts and pieces, and so kind of that ability to imagine what an end state look like and to be able to think through lots of details that don’t exist is something that I’ve played a lot of doing and I really enjoyed doing.

Another way that we played was often sort of in training for something which sort of sounds funny but we might be —

Laurie: I’m sure.

Lisa: Our bikes as horses one day, right, and we were training for a national rodeo or something called [21:43], or the swimming pool might be our gymnastics field and we were practicing for hours –

Laurie: For the Olympics.

Lisa: For the Olympics, right, so this idea of mapping out a goal, maybe, is one thing that I see as I think back on, how do I do that still? Or how to incorporate that into my life.

Sucheta: That’s really crazy and amazing. How about you, Laurie?

Laurie: Well, I’m a little stumped by the question because I feel like I play every Ingle day and now I’m an adult, I’m going to turn 50 this year, but I don’t know that I ever really stopped playing. As an artist and a writer, I just feel like the imagination side of who I was as a child never went anywhere than what I do professionally. I’m paid to come up with ideas and they need to be out-of-the-box and it’s always been such fun for me because we never played inside of a box growing up, so I don’t know about those boxes, but I think back to the idea of the books that we read growing up, we also read a lot of picture books, and they always had these beautiful illustrations. My mother never got us ugly books; there was no subpar illustration, and to me, a lot of what I learned and how I played as a child, I still use today. Now, I’m not ever designing anything that is ugly or jarring – it’s always got a sense of adventure, something unexpected, a little bit of a surprise or twist. There’s always something fun and whimsical in every work project that I do because I think that’s just who I am based on the amazing childhood I had.

Sucheta: Wow. I mean, just listening to you and knowing your professions – I don’t know you as well as I know Lisa, but the creativity, the spontaneity, deeply thought out action plan, and it sounds like this idea of innovation is really at heart of how you both choose to live your lives, and of course, I’m stretching here, but I do see play having an incredible role there, so thank you, guys, for coming on the show and contributing and sharing and making it so fun.

Laurie: Yeah, let’s go.

Lisa: We are happy to come play anytime.

Sucheta: Thank you.

Laurie: Thank you.


Producer: Wow, Sucheta, that was a lot of fun. One word I can describe that in, it’s called whimsy, and I realize how lucky we are and whimsy in today’s world, and I recognize how much that comes from play, but I love how they describe their play as adventure and how important is that in the development of the child, I loved that they went into detailed descriptions of things instead of just saying, “We were wearing a dress and I was wearing –” I couldn’t remember what she said but it’s some specific kind of dress with the color and the strap – I mean, how important is that descriptive side of this thing, and then the obviously, as you know it’s important to me is that they read a lot of books, and it’s all good stuff.

Sucheta: Yes, and I think what’s so clear – were you noticing the mastery on language?

Producer: Oh, yeah.

Sucheta: This is what it does: it builds these fundamental skills that we consider so vital for education and learning, and development. They had a very robust life outside the classroom which is what I loved, listening to the imagination that went into crafting such elaborate projects, elaborate catastrophes. I don’t think I have never met anybody who actually simulated a catastrophe and said, “Let’s pretend that we are stuck in a flood.” That’s so great! That’s why I loved having them both.

As you can see, this way of tracing one’s own play history is like tracing one’s origin of your lighthearted self. This is how we find our ways back to who I was – where do I begin to become this easy-going, carefree person who deeply loves life? So, you can trace all the science of imaginative and symbolic play that are taking shape as the child engages, and one of the important things here as you saw, there was no interference from an adult, so I often find this concept of playdate, it fascinates me, and I kind of find it a little bit annoying that the parents are in the background, they are kind of saying, “Go, go, why don’t you offer him some ice cream?” Or “Why don’t you take out the Legos and see if he wants to play with that?” I also noticed in the work that I do, kids often get bored on a playdate. That means they have nothing to say to each other and they can’t seem to navigate this place where they have to cajole the other person to join in on the fun that they have crafted, so yes, that’s why play is so essential because our early negotiations begin there.

Producer: Well, listening to them talk and then thinking about my own experience, and then just other observations over my life, we seem to play using our hands a lot. I have to assume that has some influence on the brain and the ultimate outcomes of this, right, yeah?

Sucheta: Yeah, yeah, and you know, research in executive function talks a lot about motor planning skills which is execution – by the way, before we execute anything, execution requires a motor execution – doing, so executive function is very exclusively related to taking action, not contemplating and thinking – and that’s not alone, executive function. So, if we think about it that way, play is very powerful in that specific regard because it inherently emphasizes learning by doing.

So, David Kelly has coined the term called “thinking with your hands,” and what he means is that when we play, we automatically engage in exploration through experimentation and we’re doing that with our hands, so building, breaking, putting things together, digging, opening, turning over, play acting – if you think about all that, as I mentioned earlier, we are building models and these models are what we give a chance to hypothetically create one, and then modify them as we go along. So, by the time our children enter kindergarten, all this kind of stuff is taken away from them, the kind of exploration they do with their hand is hardly that robust in the classroom, so this is why we are kind of getting it wrong, I feel, in a way. You know?

Producer: Well, I’m thinking about when you were mentioning the parents were like chaperoning and almost like guiding the play, my parents certainly didn’t do that. I would get up in the morning and have breakfast, and I’d be gone and I wouldn’t come home until I heard the bell ringing for dinner, and certainly, when I was at home, my parents weren’t sitting there with me, watching me build Legos. I mean, they didn’t tell me what to build. I mean, it’s real clear to me now, obviously, that if parents want to see their kids thrive, you got to let them play.

Sucheta: Yes! And you got to let them play literally means let them loose. You know, I was reading this amazing book by Jennifer History and she’s written All Joy and No Fun, this is about parenting and she talks about the 100-year evolution of parents, lives of parents as we begin to live in suburbs and how mothers became in charge of driving their children to activities, from an activity to activity after school and pretty much, the child spends most of his time with an adult in the car. Now, with the technology in the last maybe 10 years, the children who are driven by their mothers or nannies are not talking to anybody, so that’s another – can you imagine stifling the whole expression side of your own development? So yes, play is critical in the development of problem-solving – I cannot emphasize enough and it also is very critical for social development. So yes, I mean, I think right now, if we are stuck in artificially creating play, go ahead, let’s do it.

I often recommend people in my practice to go and enroll their children in acting class or improv. I think that probably is one of the places where they are forced to pretend and role-play, and they get lines fed and they have to emote using those lines. So, it is a little bit structured and artificial, but it’s probably the closest to the play. It’s a play for non-imaginative people.

Producer: Improv is a great strategy because it does teach you a lot of things. I mean, there’s a lot of businesses that employ that now for all different reasons, and thinking of that and now that I’m better understanding the definition of what play is, I mean, there’s obviously play all around us and we should probably talk about adults at play. We should be allowed to play too because that can be fun. We are allowed to have fun. Talk more about that please.

Sucheta: I know, and what a fantastic reference. Yes, yes, yes, I really think we all should play and play is nothing but what we describe in adulthood creativity, sports, and right side of the brain kind of thinking, but in adult life, the play emerges as an element of surprise, brings kind of excitement in everyday life and in your relationship.

Let me give you an example of Anna and Terry, a couple from Australia. They began to date, and a token of his love on their first anniversary, Terry handcrafted a beautiful pendant necklace for his fiancée out of [30:51]. I think it’s only found in Tasmania, Australia – but anyway, a year and a half later, Anna and Terry traveled all the way to Smoo Cave in southern Scotland where they had always talked about visiting, and as they were descending into the cave, Terry said, “Hey, Anna, can I just borrow your necklace, I want to take some pictures?” So, she thought nothing about it, and so she gave it to him, and the funniest thing happened next. So, he put the camera in the cave and you can see this on YouTube – I’ll link it in my podcast here – but apparently, what he did is the necklace, the pendant actually was not whole; it was hollow inside and he had carved inside and made a place for an engagement ring, so he had placed that engagement ring inside this necklace a year and a half earlier. She just didn’t know it.

Producer: Wow, that’s awesome.

Sucheta: Isn’t that great? And so, what he had to do is crack it open, and then he got on his knees and proposed and she was just bawled over, “What? How thoughtful of him!” and what’s so crazy about the Smoo, by the way, is kind of a Norse word which means “hiding place,” so the double entendre there, he created a necklace which was a hiding place and he took her to a hiding place to propose. So, this is what I mean, like this is a fantastic example of play, isn’t it?

Producer: Absolutely, I love it, I love it. You know, Sucheta, thinking more about play, and that’s a great story, but which families did that? I mean, does your family do puzzles and that kind of stuff?

Sucheta: Yes, oh my God, we are big, big, big, big on play and yeah, we are a little bit nerdish because we love to do like word puzzles and we love to do math puzzles, and we send each other jokes and riddles all the time – I’ll send you, and of course, my children kind of make fun of this now, but more so of my husband who tends to send silly jokes a lot, but I’ll give you an example. Recently, in our WhatsApp group, he shared this cute – I guess they can be called riddles or puns, I guess, I don’t know what the right term is but here you go, okay? Energizer Bunny arrested, charged with battery.

Producer: God.

Sucheta: So stupid, right?

Producer: But, you know what, but that’s play though. I mean, that is play –

Sucheta: It really is. It’s like making fun of yourself or laughing at something which is kind of stupid too.

Okay, I’ll give you a few more, two more, okay? Without geometry, life is pointless.

Producer: Oh, goodness.

Sucheta: Oh, and the best one is this. A successful diet is the triumph of mind over platter.

Producer: Oh my. Those are awful but great at the same time.

Sucheta: Well, try to remember in like a casual conversation, try and tell somebody that. You never remember these punchlines and funny jokes or riddles, right? But yeah, that’s something that I think brings a great joy when we are together, we played cards, we have the celebrity games. When my children were growing up, I used to always tell them this incredible made-up story that went on for years. It was called [34:06]. This was a man who had magic powers, and so every night when the kids went to bed, I would make up a story. So somehow, I don’t even know how we landed on that, my mother used to use this term, [34:19], so that’s how I picked it up and I made up the story of my kids got so enthralled in it that every night, I had to lie to them and come up with something elaborate, and it’s so, so cute but it lasted for a year at least or two, but you know, that was one of our little things that is imaginative, and my children are very imaginative and they are very playful. My older son, I spoke to him on Sunday and he was riding his bike and I said, where are you going? So, he said, “Well, I’m going to the train station.” He lives in Manhattan, and then he says, “I’m going to take the train, I’m going to Long Island or Hampton beach or somewhere,” and he said, “Well, I’m taking apart a murder mystery and I have a specific costume and a role.” He’s 23 and yes, he was looking ridiculous as he rode his bike that was not his in the middle of Manhattan on Saturday morning.

Producer: You know, I mean, we would need another hour to just talk about just the powerful benefits of just play within just a family environment or just typical relationships in terms of strengthening those, building trust. I mean, there’s just so much benefit to this and all stems from play.

Sucheta: Yeah, and you know, like if you take the example of the way we communicate with others, we are using a name, like take the example of a name. I named my practice Cerebral Matters, and I wanted to do this double entrende, cerebral matters, matters of the cerebral, matters of the brain and brain matters in your life, and I always am looking for clever ways people come up with ideas and clever ways they share with the world. For example, Elon Musk has founded a new company. It’s called the Boring Company, BORING, but it is literally a company, a drilling company, so there’s a tongue-in-cheek nature to things which kind of takes you to this childlike innocence in things where you have curiosity and joy, or watching something that works.

When we lived in Boston, I always made a point when we went to Cambridge to visit the store. It was a store – the name of the store was Games People Play, and guess what they sold, Todd, they sold games.

Producer: They sold games, yeah.

Sucheta: It was so fun. So, yeah, I’m a sucker for that, I love that.

Producer: Well, but you were talking about there if I’m picking up on the cue here is that this is kind of like signaling. I mean, this is an invitation out there to invite us to engage in playful banter and playful activity. That’s kind of what these – like what your company name is, that is what that is, right?

Sucheta: Yeah, so what is after all play invitation? Invitation, it’s the opposite of aggression. Aggression says “stay away or else,” and play says, “come closer, so we shall.” So, it is an invitation for intimacy, it’s also an invitation for social bonding, it’s an invitation to say, “Let’s kind of get rid of each other’s stress, let’s play.” Oh, it’s so great, isn’t it?

Producer: Yeah, it really is and I hope people will accept more of those invitations because they are all around us. Alright, so as we are wrapping things up with this episode, let’s talk about what both parents and teachers should be taking away from this discussion today?

Sucheta: Yes, so the biggest takeaway is twofold. One is executive function at heart means problem-solving and problem-solving is a skill that you learn not by going and taking a class; it is literally engaging in some sort of hypothesizing. In our next episode, we are going to talk about daily problem-solving, but I’m setting the stage through play to talk about problem-solving.

The second thing is, play is the seed of creativity, so creativity is nothing but looking at a problem from a novel perspective in a self-initiated way and in order to create joy. So, we can’t necessarily make children creative in a scripted way but we can certainly create an environment where they begin to play and play with ideas in an effort to fit those ideas together to generate the solution. So, one needs the space and a fertile land where they can play or flirt with ideas and sow the seeds of creativity. So, it is kind of engaging in the world in a freefall manner and let the ideas take shape in a creative way. Parents need to feel comfortable and confident that their kids can be allowed to make chaos at their home and they should be kind of engaging in nonacademic tasks where they play so that they can take those skills and apply.

So, arts, music, theater, acting, these are some of the places where experiences are provided to the children in a way that it acts as a rich soil for children to be carefree but very safe.

And finally, I will say that we need to really aspire for creativity because it’s an ultimate expression of joy.

So, do you know, Todd, that Einstein claimed that his Theory of Relativity was a magical musical thought? As a child, he took the self-initiative and showed interest in learning violin on his own and he taught violin to himself after listening to Mozart but that kind of, he described, was the foundation of his musical thought. What a beautiful way to think about, isn’t it?

Producer: Well, it’s an example of how play generates ideas and more whimsy and it frees up the mind to be more creative in other endeavors. I mean, it just proves the point.

Sucheta: And you know, as I know we are ending here but I just want to share one quick study, there’s a psychologist who studied a Nobel prize-winning scientist and you know what they found? They found some incredible science behind or themes that emerged that the scientists were twice as likely to play musical instruments. They were seven times more likely than an average person to draw or paint and 12 times more likely to write fiction or poetry, and finally, 22 times more likely to perform as a dancer, actor, or a magician.

So imagine, it’s a myth to think that if you have a scientific fact or a scientific mind and a mathematical inclination, then you cannot be engaging in the artistic side of the world, no, in fact, when they combine together, it leads to the highest form of creativity.

So, let’s play, Todd, let people play and let’s enjoy life, and as we do that, we are going to be free from all the worries because we are going to get to practice how to worry in a scripted way, and then let that worry go, isn’t it?

Producer: It’s absolutely the case and I am going to encourage more playtime amongst certainly all my colleagues. Great, great stuff.

Alright, that’s all the time we have today. If you know of someone who might benefit from our very own whimsical podcast episode today, we would be most grateful if you would kindly forward it to them. So, on behalf of our host, Sucheta and all of us at Cerebral Matters, that means something more to me now, thanks for listening today and we look forward to seeing you right here next week on Full PreFrontal.