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  • Writer's pictureY.A.Y

Take Play Seriously, Then Seriously, Play!

Updated: Jan 27, 2021

A common stress these days is “there’s just no time”. Whether that be referring to a work schedule, school curricular expectations, or the good ol’ daily grind: people of all professions are feeling more and more bombarded with to-dos, leaving less and less time for play, and if the adults are feeling it, the kids are feeling it too. Play, a fundamental human right, is in danger of becoming perceived as bonus, a luxury, or maybe even unimportant in comparison to the on-going projects, meetings, deadlines and daily demands of today’s western, overly-technological life.

In the same way we (are learning to) MAKE time for working out, getting a real night of sleep, and making healthy food as much as we can, we must make time for play if we are to nurture the healthy development of our kids and protect our own wellbeing.

Play has long been recognized as a critical, positive component to health & emotional well-being. Peter Gray, a psychology professor emeritus at Boston College writes, “If we love our children and want them to thrive, we must allow them more time & opportunity to play, not less”. He further notes the correlation between decreased recess & playtime with a rise in childhood depression & anxiety. The less time and priority we give to play, the less we invest in our childrens’ ability to enjoy life, and therefore, be well.

The ways in which kids engage with one another in playful conditions allow spontaneity, freedom, expression and the chance to practice numerous crucial social skills. As author and editorial director of health at TIME magazine Siobhan O’Connor contends, “Play teaches children how to work together and, at the same time, how to be alone. It teaches them how to be human”. Improv, similarly, is a practice that celebrates the moment and our natural instinct to connect and create, especially when we don’t know what else to do!

Improv makes a game out of communication, miscommunication, human folly, compromise, adaptation, flexibility, failure, creative & social risk-taking, learning to recognize wants and feelings (our own and those of our peers’) and being deliberate about those wants and feelings. It is no coincidence that pretend play, most common among children, boasts so many real life benefits. Since Improv is literally pretend play, there are no right/wrong answers, only supportive offers and discoveries, internalizing a healthy attitude toward the uncertain and honouring ourselves and others in the process.

Improv fosters a connection to self, the moment, and others, with an underlying framework of acceptance and a sense of humour, enabling one’s capacity to embrace the unexpected, the challenging, maybe even the undesired! In this way, Improv equips us with the ability to navigate life, relationships and the ever-evolving relationship to self. Of course, there are rules and avenues to perceived successes in Improv games, but these systems are fluid, creative and oftentimes, losing is just as fun as winning. Letting go of our attachment to fixed outcomes is a skill that humans of all ages can afford to grow!

The benefits of play don’t just go away as we age. Rather, as time goes on, schedules fill and pressure rises, we go away from play, forgetting that play is actually what HELPS us face all those schedules, deal with pressure and enjoy our lives vs. just trying to get through them.

Improv reminds us of the opportunities in the present moment, in ourselves as we are, and in others as they are, ultimately helping to cultivate a healthy attitude toward the ‘unfinished’, an overall sense of belonging and purpose within a dynamic, and a willingness to allow those roles to shift. Everything is an opportunity with a sense of humour!

Not to mention, laughter and play boost energy, while the notion of play and fun can be an incentive, culminating in an enhanced ability and desire to focus when returning to daily tasks and challenges.

The Play of Improv is such a great way to practice so many essential skills. And also it’s just fun! That’s still valuable, right?


Howard, J., & McInnes, K. (2013). Child: Care, Health and Development.

UN Human Rights, Office of the High Commisioner (1991). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 31.

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