There’s no doubt that using playfulness, games and puzzles enhances children’s learning. Play optimises opportunities for gaining new skills, remembering information, recognising social cues and understanding basic principles; it’s foundational to children’s learning and development. Yet, does playfulness always have to have an educational twist?

My answer to this question is a defining NO!

I can obviously acknowledge the beneficial applications of using playfulness in the classroom, but I also believe that embracing nonsensical play has the capacity to unearth many hidden wonders; fostering imagination, creativity, fun, expression and connection.
For the most part, my job entails convincing adults of this ‘non-educational’ and ‘non-structured’ play. The way I go about doing this, is by bringing groups of adults (teachers, parents and care workers) together into a space of purposeless play. As the workshops unravel, so to do the participants. As they engage in laughter, improvisation and expressive movement they begin to ‘feel better’.

‘Feeling better’ is the most common comment that I receive from participants, and often they can’t quite place why. Amongst the health benefits of play and laughter; embracing the nonsensical can help us build connections with others and simultaneously help us feel more connected to ourselves. In purposeless play we become rule breakers, mischief makers, leaders in our own right. We become the creators of our own story, present in our bodies, aware of our aliveness.

This willingness to play for no reason, makes us remember our common connections between us and our colleagues, our spouse, our neighbours, our friends, our relatives and our children. Purposeless play is a sure fire way to building strong and connected relationships. So if you’re ready to embark on some ridiculousness read on!

25 ways to embrace nonsensical play

  1. Have an imaginary food fight
  2. Have a conversation in gibberish – in a serious tone ask your child ‘flob a blob blob flob?’
  3. Get all of the art supplies out and instruct the children to do their worst art. Show them the way…crumple up the paper, rip it, pour water on it, draw with your eyes closed
  4. Take a walk in the park and pretend you’re a fox trapped in a humans body
  5. Point and name the objects in your room, point and re-name the objects in your room. So that ‘cat, radiator, window’ turn into ‘frogs, marmalade and land rover’
  6. Say the word ‘bubbles’ without smiling
  7. Use the structure of a game like badminton, but make up your own rules, do you need to swap sides? Stand on one leg? Play with more than one shuttlecock? Or make up a celebratory dance move?
  8. Make a silly hat, so the children know when you’re playing and when you’re not
  9. Do a task, have the children shout ‘rewind’ to retrace your steps and ‘fast forward’ to speed up what you’re doing
  10. Make a potion from things you can find in the garden
  11. Don’t laugh. Have one person be the fool with the aim to make everyone else laugh. The first person to laugh becomes the fool!
  12. Make up new words to a song you love
  13. Create a game that’s never been played before, use a sponge, a torch and an orange (or whatever you can find) call it a name, play it once and never again
  14. Ask the children all the ways you might use a coat hanger without mentioning hanging coats
  15. Play a game of imaginary rounders, where the ball, bats and bases are all imaginary
  16. Eat a doughnut without licking your lips
  17. Fail to do a simple task correctly, make opening a packet of crisps, putting on a jumper or brushing your teeth the hardest task in the world, have the children make suggestions
  18. Go on an imaginary adventure, take the child’s lead on where you go
  19. Have a talent show of ordinary talents, gasp and whoop at how spectacular each child is at their ordinary talent. For example rubbing their tummy and patting their head, standing on one leg or making a scary face
  20. Stand on one leg, whilst rubbing your tummy and making a scary face!
  21. Give inanimate objects personalities
  22. Come up with another phrase for when someone sneezes
  23. Bake and ice an imaginary cake
  24. Leave the house and have the child say ‘left’ or ‘right’, follow their directions and see where you end up
  25. Get comfortable with looking silly; fall, fail, stutter, blunder, it’s good to laugh, it’s even better to laugh at yourself

About the author:

Katie Rose White is a Laughter Facilitator and founder of The Best Medicine. She works predominantly with carers, teachers and healthcare professionals - teaching playful strategies for boosting mood, strengthening resilience and improving well-being. She provides practical workshops, interactive talks and training days - fusing therapeutic laughter techniques, playful games and activities, and mindfulness-based practices. The techniques are not only designed to equip participants with tools for managing their stress, but can also be used and adapted to the needs of the people that they are supporting.

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