The Courage to Be Playful

As you’ve probably noticed, this month’s theme has been courage.

One of the origins of the word courage is the Old French “cuer,” meaning “heart.” We have marked February by opening our hearts to love and history, and by asking our hearts to take small difficult steps towards something we have been avoiding.

We began the month by delving into the idea that fear, and not hate, is the opposite of love. We then looked to the science of courage, which showed us how to practice our “couraging” by connecting to our values and taking small do-able steps.

We will conclude the month by talking about the courage to be playful and how it can be another doorway into difficult conversations or reconnection.

Traditionally, at least in the midwest states where I do much of my work, February and March are two of the toughest months of the school year. One administrator calls this period “Funky February”, claiming that the days between President’s Day weekend and Spring Break are always the longest and hardest for both staff and kids. 

This also appears to be true for our household. February and March seem so long and gray and dreary. That is why now – more than ever – we need to remember the importance of playfulness.


It turns out that play is a human need, much like touch. Remember those orphan babies that failed to thrive because they did not get held enough? It seems that humans, including adult humans, also need play.

Play helps adults be more productive and improves their mental health, while play deprivation in rats and monkeys has been linked to poor social development. Playfulnesshas even been shown as a preferable quality in romantic partners in one European study.

Incorporating play into education can also help middle-school and high school students learn content.

Just as importantly, playfulness can help us get over the hump of a rough day or turn a criticism into a connecting moment – by creating laughter or lightening the mood.

Although being silly or goofy is NOT natural to me, I have been trying to include playfulness in my work and home life this month in small purposeful ways. As you can see below, these playful actions built on each other, eventually shining their way into difficult conversations and making heavy things a bit lighter. Some examples from this month are below:

For some of you, being playful with your students, at home, or with colleagues is a natural way of being and you just need a reminder to do your thing (OK – GO DO YOUR THING!)

However, as I mentioned, I am not playful or goofy by nature. Sure – our family does “Full House” Appreciations and 180 Questions at meal times. However, even our “connecting activities” seemed to sag under the gray clouds of February.  

It seemed that I needed a bit of en-courage-ment to bring more playfulness into my life. I needed to just start somewhere. 


A couple of years ago I read an essay in the NY Times in which the author granted people permission to make a change they really wanted (based on a study by Freakanomics author Steven D. Levitt). It seems that many of us need a Permission Fairy – someone to grant us the permission to make our own wishes come true.

I have talked to teachers who say they long for the days when the curriculum was less confining and they could drop what they were doing (on a bad day) and just play a game with their students. I have talked to parents who wish they were having more fun with their kids or parenting was more joyful. I believe that we need those games and moments of lightness MORE desperately now than ever.

So please, consider this letter to be your permission to courageously begin injecting more play into your work and home life.

And yes – feel free to borrow any of our goofy dinner ideas as a start!

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