From the Lemelson Center's "Invention at Play" exhibition. Video produced by Hillmann & Carr Inc., Washington, D.C., with additional footage from the award-winning series, "The Promise of Play," courtesy of Direct Cinema Limited.
Play for Play's Sake (How do you describe play?)
David Kelley, founder and chairman, IDEO, product design company: I guess I would define play as kind of an emotional state when you're having a good time.
Jeri Robinson, vice president of Early Childhood Programs, The Children's Museum, Boston: Play is boisterous.
Michele Root-Bernstein, Ph.D., co-author, Sparks of Genius: It's non-directed.
Robert Root-Bernstein, Ph.D., Michigan State University, co-author, Sparks of Genius: It's spontaneous.
Frank Wilson, M.D., Stanford University Medical Center, author, The Hand: It's not scripted.
Jeri Robinson: Play is loud.
David Kelley: Not work.
Jeri Robinson: It's physical.
Alvin F. Poussaint, M.D., professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School: It's fun.
Robert Root-Bernstein, Ph.D., Michigan State University, co-author, Sparks of Genius: Play actually is meaningless behavior. You do it for its intrinsic value to you, but play can have utility. That is, you end up developing skills, and those skills can then be used in other arenas.
John Fabel, inventor, adjunct professor of design, Hampshire College: I think play is one of the ways that we get a feel for the shape of the world.
Alvin Pouissant: Play is the central item in children's lives. It's like work is to grown-ups. They play to learn.
Jeri Robinson: Play is child's work. It's all that young children do to learn about the world that they're in.
Alison Gopnik, Ph.D., University of California at Berkeley, co-author, The Scientist in the Crib: We get this period,this time early on in our lives, when all we have to do, as it were, is figure out everything about what the world around us is like, and the way we do it is by playing. Children aren't just passive. They are very actively shaping their experience and shaping their knowledge.
Jeri Robinson: For adults, play becomes both again skill building, but also ways of relaxing, ways of passing time differently; getting away from what adults now think of as work.
Michele Root-Bernstein, Ph.D., co-author, Sparks of Genius: Very few of us actually pursue hobbies or other activities that to the extent where we become creative ourselves, we become inventive, we make the imaginary world that is part of the play.
Alvin Poussaint, M.D., professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School: You know we don't like to use the word play in a lot of adult activity that is supposed to be serious because then people think you're being frivolous.
Robert Root-Bernstein: We're actually socialized out of playing. I don't think most adults skip down the street. It would be embarrassing.
David Kelley: The truth is that the kind of playing and being innovative has been kind of programmed out of people, and so a first step is to get people to start feeling that play is ok, and that they are inherently a creative person.
Robert Root-Bernstein: I'm very interested in the way shapes, molecules fit together, and so I cut paper shapes that fit together, and they often take off on a life of their own. I mainly play with art.
Frank Wilson: I happen to be at the ripe old age of 64 just learning how to ride motorcycles for the first time. Terrifying but awfully fun.
Bernard Mergen, Ph.D., George Washington University, author, Play and Playthings: Depending on the motivation for playing it--playing ping-pong or tennis or any game--it can be more or less playful. I think that play enters into it when one doesn't expect a particular result. Games, competitive games, which have a winner or a loser, are not, in my definition, play.
John Fabel: I think as adults when we encourage our children to play we could perhaps encourage them to work around an idea or a thing or a certain challenge that requires doing something with the world. Let's see if we can make this fly. What happens if we float this stick in the river?
Girl: I am waving my thingy.
Jeri Robinson: The young child sees something, they're curious about it, they're going to go over, take a look at it, pick it up, smell it, taste it, half the time, try to figure out what it does. They're just going to be ready and willing to go out there and try out new things.
Frank Wilson: It's a terrible burden and a real disservice, I think, to parents to make them think, for example, that if their children are doing something that has no obvious purpose, it isn't in a manual somewhere, that therefore they need to stop them and get them busy on something that they need to be doing. The reason I think that's a terrible mistake is that it so underestimates the capacity of the child, of anybody, not just a child, an adult, to take something that's in front of them and make something unexpected out of it. The freedom to invent is intimately bound up with the freedom that we associate with the act of play.
Alison Gopnik: Giving children the freedom and space to allow their own curiosity to blossom, giving children opportunities to explore, to find out about the world, and then to have that wonderful a-ha experience, that seems to me to be a way that you could have a generation of children that would be great scientists and inventors.