When I talk about play people often say – or look like they want to – ‘Oh, you mean like children do?’ I have to give them a look that is somewhere between withering and disappointed and calmly explain that play is for life, not just for children.
A day at the zoo, however, has convinced me that this might well be the wrong way of responding. I’m going to try out pointing to the animal kingdom. ‘Look at the Macaques,’ I’ll say, ‘do they look like they stopped playing once they were fully grown? Do they look like they have any intention of ever stopping playing?’
I reckon we probably have as much to learn about play from the way animals act when they aren’t eating, hunting for food, or sleeping as we do from kids. You might be tempted to think that their play personalities will veer toward the kinesthete, but take a closer look and you’ll see the whole range – jokers and storytellers, competitors and collectors. Of course loads of these activities seem to benefit them in terms of their survival and thriving – but so what, they’re still doing them in a playful way.
Play is infectious, and definitely not just between humans. I am charmed by the turtles, snuggling into one another. I delight in the lemur swinging from a branch, dangling and holding on with only two legs – I’m also scared she’ll fall. As much as I am curious about the majestic tiger, he’s curious about all of us – just as much behind reinforced glass as he is.
It’s an awful day, weather-wise, but this turns out to be a great day to be at the zoo (soggy socks aside). No crowds block your view of the enclosures. The animals shelter together, or dance in the downpour. The penguins porpoise (which I learnt from the keeper is a verb), because they love the rain.
My mood is lifted; I don’t want this exploration to end; I experiment and go where my heart takes me. A couple of people asked me ‘Is going to the zoo play?’ My answer: go and see – I’m pretty sure I know what you’ll conclude.
I love to go to the zoo. But not on Sunday. I don’t like to see the people making fun of the animals, when it should be the other way around. – Ernest Hemingway
Ease of play: 7/10 (a LOT of walking!)
Resemblance to play: 7/10
Potential frequency of play: Medium