• Meredith Shaw

Tri-Town Council Invites Community to Wonder “Why We Play”

Updated: Oct 15

“Play is the highest form of research.” —Albert Einstein


Like most of life’s biggest concepts—Love, Truth, Self, Time—our intuition says “Play” is essential, but it’s not easy to summarize or define. We may know when we see or are in it, but feel curious about how, and why. And when missing, we wonder: where does it live, and what does it need to thrive?

Without a lesson on play (haha), we know it’s about the unknown. To play is to improvise—to use what we have—to imagine and see how things go. To play is to open our arms, hearts and minds—to each other, to ideas, to learn; to be curious, to try, to invent and include, to create, and allow to emerge.

To play is to be fully present, engaged—and yet somewhat in an altered state. With its own set of rules, a protection of joy, it’s like a dream, with its own time and space—a space where we learn, as nature designed, many skills from physical to emotional; conceptual, literal and lateral thinking, creativity, and how to be social.

Play’s a drive so alive that it calls through the strain of schedules and obligation. Like sleep, or drink, or food, or comfort, we need play for rejuvenation.

Psychology professor Dr. Peter Gray says that for decades, play has been declining, while youth mental health disorders like depression and anxiety are climbing. Gray also notes that play is most educational when it is self-directed. Play is where children learn control in their lives, if they aren’t too over-protected. “Psychologists know very well,” he says “that no internal sense of control sets one up for anxiety and depression.” Which, of course, deep down, we all know.

The documentary film “Chasing Childhood” addresses several factors of concern. Too much pressure to perform when stakes are high impedes the playful way to learn. One graduate in

the film looks back at that stress and pressure in her youth and how she thought college “would be unicorns and rainbows as long as [she] was successful now.”


The film asks the question of what success means, and what might be lost on the way. It also delves into fears and worries that hamper the autonomy of play. Julie Lythcott-Haims says “Mortgaging your kid’s childhood is a debt that can’t be repaid.” There is a well-documented correlation between mental health and the environment we create.


Tri-Town Council Director Meredith Shaw says the research “warrants pause and consideration.” She wonders “How do we move toward childhoods that prioritize play in a healthy foundation? What difference can play make in the lives of our youth, and how can caring adults support a balance between free-time and structure, playful musings as well as results?”

Instinctively, we know play is nourishing—relieving our worries and stress. Play creates joy, laughter, acceptance, and leads to good health and happiness. And just like love, truth, self, and time—play, too, calls out to explore. So how do we—as a curious community—use wonder to try to learn more?

Shaw says "TTC and our partners and stakeholders invite you to join us in seeing what might develop as our community explores play’s role in healthy development and well-being.” What do you think, and what do you wonder about this thing we call play? Are you interested in exploring it together with others, in various directions and ways?

Does play sometimes feel elusive to you, or as if it doesn’t seem to count? Is it playing its own game—hiding from us, that we must enter to seek it out? Why does it seem like measures of success don’t include free-play in their scope? Just like all the essentials, might we lose touch with it, even if we hope we won’t?

What do we do with these questions we have? Point fingers or call for actions? Or playfully holler them into balloons, toss them around and see what happens? Might we look into each other’s eyes, smile, and say, “Let’s play with play”? Maybe do some digging, get a little messy, and see what we create?

The truth is we’re all still recovering, and not exactly sure what to let go, or how to go about healing and growing, or trusting what we think we know. We all care immensely about our youth, whether we’re young now, or ever have been. And beneath our coping, something is guiding, reminding us how to feel good again.

Shaw’s hope is that we can help our youth “create lives they are excited about living” by finding ways to “develop wide open spaces to dream, explore possibilities and feelings.”

Time to play is one of life’s greatest gifts, whether social, or with the world—of ideas or nature or science or art, inspiring questions that long to be heard. Maybe together we can co-create a space that feels safe and free—to build the trust, confidence, and perspective we need to really share, and see what could be.

TTC invites you to attend some events on this engaging topic of play:

Thursday, October 20, at 7, esteemed professor, Dr. Peter Gray.

Known for his TED talk “The Decline of Play” and his research through Boston College, he is published on the topic of play and education, and evolutionary theories of psychology.

The talk will be held in-person at Masco, and will also be recorded and live-streamed. Many thanks to Boxford Cable for helping increase viewership and accessibility.

Then Thursday, November 3 at 6:30 the film “Chasing Childhood,” also at Masco, with a discussion afterward at 8:00, please join if you could. You can watch on-demand November 1-8, and let’s all ponder how best to proceed: book clubs, play groups, brainstorm other ideas, or pledge time for the play we all need.

Follow the hashtag #whyweplay and use it to tag and share. Tag @tritowncouncil, too, if you could; we’d love to see and be aware of how and why our community creates play spaces and play times. Let’s be open to where this might lead us—with curiosity, reason and rhyme.

Flyer for Oct. 20 Peter Gray event View livestream and/or recorded presentation at www.boxfordcabletv.com

REGISTER to attend

Flyer for Nov. 3 Chasing Childhood

REGISTER for in-person or on demand screening

Resources and articles about play






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