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Animals at Play

[audio slideshow, 2:20]
Anyone who has a pet can testify that play is not exclusive to humans. And, in the wild, different species often are at odds. But, Stuart Brown witnessed something different. Here, he describes Norbert Rosing's striking images of a wild polar bear playing with sled dogs in the wilds of Canada's Hudson Bay.

Fellowship of the Rings

[audio slideshow, 2:51]
Stuart Brown pointed out that play can manifest itself in many ways: reading, hiking, painting…. For some adults in Santa Monica, the traveling rings on Muscle Beach not only offer exercise but a chance to resolve the angst of their workdays with the serenity of swinging in a beautiful setting.

Selected Readings

Pertinent Posts from the On Being Blog

Our online editor retraces the long tail of this program and the unexpected path leading up to the initial broadcast.

When we value the mindfulness and intellectual rigor in all kinds of work — including manual forms of labor — what do we learn about ourselves? A reflection on appreciating labor in its many forms.

The 2010 World Cup final expects to draw 700 million viewers in a few hours. And with all the fanfare and elaborate ceremonies preceding this championship game, soccer at its core is a game of universal appeal and absolute simplicity. Nowhere is this more obvious than on the continent of Africa itself.

Travel to the woods of Maine and encounter Kate Braestrup's landscape from a falconer's perspective. Audio producer Samantha Broun and photographer Amanda Kowalski follow the story of a red-tailed hawk on the hunt. It's a hidden world.

Yosemite meets Saarschleife in this pairing of German wilderness and poignant words from John Muir.

Adele Diamond studies how social dramatic play can build "executive function" (EF) skills in children's brains. EF is a container term for capacities like inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility.

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I grew up in a family with a father who loved to play (and still does at age 80). Play was a priority in our family and it still is in my life. This is what I admire the most about my father,and what I have carried forward in my own life.

As a child in a family of nine children, we couldn't wait to get out the door in the morning during summer or after school during the school year. Our days consisted of kick the can, softball, football....Sometimes we played board games and cards but most of the time we were playing something. To this day when all of us are together, our time revoves around some type of play. we recently all met up to surprise my dad for his 80th b-day and we played a horseshoe-type game called cornhusk. To this day my favorite way to interact with people is to play something. For my 50th b-day I told my family if there was to be a party I wanted it to involve playing something.

I work as a Reading Specialist in an elementary school and primarily teach a phonics based program. I have incorporated many games into my lessons and it is not unusual for students to come in and say, "What are we going to play today Mrs. Brady?" I have found that when you do this, it makes it fun and engaging and they remember what the lesson was about.

I have a friend that I have been playing racquetball originally, and then tennis for over 20 years together once or twice a week. We witnessed our kids growing up, going onto college, and now starting their own families. We've shared many tears, hopes, dreams, and stories "at the net".

Playing has been essential to my life and my favorite saying is: You don't stop playing because you get old. you get old because you stop playing. My dad is truly testament to this and I hope I will be too. I hope my owm children will see how much "play" has added to my life and that they will find their own forms of play that will enhance their lives too.

Joanne, I loved your play story. I have a similar one in my life. Visit and to see what I am doing with the help of many volunteers in Takoma Park, Maryland to encourage people to play daily. Keep playing! Pat Rumbaugh The Play Lady

Thank you so much for sharing your fantastic photos with the world. It makes me feel happy and hopeful that there is such love and joy universally expressed through play by all species.

This interview, Ms. Tippett is a brilliant perspective on play. As a young adult I was described as "mechanical" because I was too serious. My sense of humor needed steroids to activate and I may take some things too seriously and aggravate myself more than necessary. A good balance between play, humor and serious attention is a delicate combination that enhances well-being, controls stress and opens the mind. Humor diffuses anger. The Bible says a soft answer turns away wrath

Proverbs 15:1 ¶ A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.(KJV).

I view that passage of Scripture as a play response in a difficult situation. My brother-in-law is an expert on play. He is magnetic and gets away with things because of his natural playful character. Thanks for sharing Dr. Brown!

Having been an early childhood educator for many, many years, I can attest to the importance of play for young children, indeed, all of us. When a parent of a young child complains because there is too much play, my answer is that play is child's work, that play, as I define it, is self-directed activity, that this play is important for a child's total development.
After having worked with 2s, 3s, 4s for many years, I am now working with/nurturing children under 1. I am amazed and in awe of their play, as they begin to investigate/understand/make sense of this world, as they acquire needed skills, as they relate to others. It is a joy for me to watch, to observe, and to interfere only when absolutely necessary..

Krista you & Dr. Stuart Brown made my day today. Earlier in the day I enjoyed our Pastor's sermon, "The Truth Will Set You Free." It was enlightening and held my attention, but your interview with Stuart made me want to stop half way and take my dogs for a playful walk. I couldn't wait to get back and hear the rest. I have been fortunate in my life to have the opportunity to get to know Stuart because, of our shared professional interest in play. In 2007 I contacted him, because i was researching play for my children's book, "Let's Play at the Playground, which Stuart ended up writing a blurb for that appears on the back cover of the book. In 2009 I founded We have just put on our 50th fun FREE play event in Takoma Park, MD. We are a group of people who organizing unorganized play events. On the website you can see the two TEDxTalks I just gave on play. You can also see I was asked to be the Grand Marshall of Takoma Park's July 4 Parade. We will be playing & walking in the parade. I am currently forming the non-profit A friend shared this interview with me today. I would love to talk with you more about this subject. LPA's mission is to encourage people of all ages to play by helping them create playful events in their OWN communities. I am so glad you enjoy playing alone and with your children. Play is such a broad term, I tell people it is how you see things between your ears. If you say, "oh I have to go to the gym to workout" or "Wow, I get to go to the gym and move my body through playful exercise." Then you are giving yourself play and that is something we all should do everyday. I wish you the best. Go play! Pat Rumbaugh, The Play Lady

I cannot tell you how vindicated I feel after listening to this show with Stuart Brown. The three things he stressed: play, bears and Joseph Campbell, are all a part of my life. My play as an adult is in the form of collecting; I currently collect older video games and older technology - which I love to play with and display. When I was a child, toys were super important to me because I was an only child and toys became much more than playthings to me. I never grew out of play as an adult; although it had to be put on the back burner for a while, it has been given the time it deserves (and that I deserve!) since the 1980s.

I love bears; I have studied bears and my favorite is the North American Black Bear. I know that bears love to play and they are one of the animals that are greatest at it. So glad to hear this from someone else.

I have been a follower of Joseph Campbell for the last 30 years; but it is only since 1999 that I figured out how to incorporate what he taught into my own life in a personal way. One of the great things Campbell taught me, in addition to "Follow Your Bliss" is that it is much more important to be spiritual than religious. Many people think they are the same thing, but they are not. If it were not for Mr. Campbell, I would not have my music discographies online (since 1999). So I owe him a great deal in many respects.

Thank you to Dr. Brown for mentioning these three important things that make up my life and for giving such an inspiring and vindicating talk!!!

Dear Krista,
Thank you for your interview with Stuart Brown. I was very impressed with his description of the benefits of play, as well as the effect a lack of play had on the Texas mass murderer.
Some questions occur to me, which I hope might be addressed in future interviews:
Do Fundamentalists around the world (whether Islamic, Christian, Jewish, or any other faith) allow their children to play? Do the adults engage in play, whether soccer matches, chess matches, musical contests, etc.?
Is play part of the rehabilitation of former militants?
I wonder about groups who always seem to be killing one another, such as Sunni and Shia Muslims, or (in some parts of the world) Hindus and Buddhists. Do they ever play together?
Somewhere I heard about a summer camp which brings together Palestinian and Israeli children; are they encouraged not just to play together, but also to mix teams, so that Palestinians and Israelis play together against other teams of mixed Palestinians and Israelis? I would think that would help to break down the absolute identity of “us” vs. “them” based on religious or ethnic grounds, lay the foundation for a broader common identity as humans, and promote cooperation and mutual understanding based on accepted rules of “fair play.”
On a lighter note, your description of your son “saving the world” with imaginary companions sounds exactly like my own childhood. It also reminds me of this animated parody of the famous car chase scene from the Steve McQueen movie Bullitt:

Thanks, and keep up the good work!

I silently love your show but today is a different day. I will enjoy talking about why Play for everyone is important. Love this... keep up the good work.
Jessica Kim

enjoy this

What an interesting discussion. I never would have connected rough and tumble play in children to creating empathy, trust, and boundaries. I would have thought the exact opposite, that rough play encourages violence. There were great examples given, about how when a child realizes that they may hit someone or something too hard, they will hold back due to them understanding that it may hurt the other individual. This shows empathy from child to child. I was very surprised to hear that violent homicidal murderers such as Charles Whittman never really expressed or engaged in free play. I am one of those nervous mothers who are afraid of her children being hurt, especially my ten year old son. After hearing this discussion, and thinking back to how my son plays in his free time with his friends or his sister, I can really begin to make sense of what Dr. Stuart Brown is discussing. What a great topic!

I am a 21 year old who recently graduated college. While at college, the combination of the steep price tag and the elite nature of the institution led to some feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. To compensate, I put my head down and worked like the devil at the hardest major I could find, math.

My schoolwork completely took over my life during my sophomore year, and during that year I noticed the exact symptoms that Dr. Brown describes: a rigid response to complex stimuli, fear of novelty, and an unfamiliarity with irony. I had always considered myself a bit of a prankster in grade school (for example, I read Johanna Hurwitz's book Class Clown three or four times in elementary school), but my sense of humor totally evaporated while I was completely caught up in my work. It was the strangest thing!

My life is now much more balanced, but it took a while for my sense of the absurd – the "bearable" lightness of being if you will – to return. How did it come back? Stand up comedy . Revisiting acts like Eddie Izzard, Jim Gaffigan, Jerry Seinfeld, and George Carlin returned me to the sometimes paradoxical, always wonderful ways in which our life unfolds.

Thanks to this episode, I now have a vocabulary to talk about what I felt and experienced. Thanks Krista, for such a great show.


Voices on the Radio

is founder and president of the National Institute for Play near Monterey, California. He is co-author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.

Production Credits

Host/Executive Producer: Krista Tippett

Executive Editor: Trent Gilliss

Senior Producer: Lily Percy

Technical Director: Chris Heagle

Associate Producer: Mariah Helgeson

Production Intern: Julie Rawe