Here is yet another speech I gave at my Toastmaster club on the 12th of March 2014.

This speech was inspired by the following amazing blog posts and speeches:

As my wife's family is from Eastern France, each year we celebrate Saint Nicolas' day. On the eve of 6th of December, we all put our shoes near the entrance of our home and each of us puts a carrot in each of the shoes. They are for Saint Nicolas' donkey. And we expect of course that the next day we will find a present instead of the carrot.

One year our kids decided to put some plastic carrots from their toys in some of their shoes instead of the real ones we had given them.

The kids decided to do that because a few hours before they were playing with fake dishes and fake food.

Anyway this example shows several interesting aspects of play:

  • it generates creativity
  • it involves stories or social interactions
  • it can be a lot of fun

To let you rediscover these and some other aspects of play, I will first talk about play among animals.

Then I will talk about play among adults.

And in the end I will come back to play among kids.

Let's talk first about animals.

All the mammals share with us this ability to play. And by the way they also all have some kind of laughters, even rats. If for example, you tickle rats they will emit special ultrasonic sounds that are like our laugth. We cannot hear them because they are ultrasonic, but they share the same characteristics as our laughters.

When some animals are prevented to play when they are young, they become less socially intelligent and they also have trouble exploring their environment.

In fact, play stimulates neuron growth and increases the capabilities of the brain.

And the bigger the brain, the longer the animal plays. For example dolphins have big brains and are well known to be very playful animals.

Some scientists even say that playing is a biological need like sleeping or eating.

So nature gave us or selected us, humans to play a lot. And in fact we play more than most if not all animals.

So let's go back to humans and adults.

The benefits of play are such that some companies realized or start to realize that it could be very good thing to let or even encourage their employees to play.

They know that play foster creativity, cooperation and risk taking. And in the end it increases our productivity.

In many Internet startups these days, you can find things to play like pinball, table-tennis, table-football, Lego bricks or sometimes even a full music studio.

Some companies even design some playful activities for their employees when they need these employees to be very creative. Such playful activities can be used to explore some new domains or to build some new things or to test some interactions by doing some role-playing for example.

Now let's go back to kids.

As you know, playing is a very important activity for kids and there are very good reasons for that.

Unfortunately the time children have for unsupervised play has decreased since the sixties.

At the same time there has been a linear increase in anxiety and depression among young people.

According to biologists, play activates the production of some molecules that reduce depression.

There is also a test called the "Torrance Test of Creative Thinking" which is about testing creativity.

What's interesting with this test is that it's the best predictor we have about real world achievements. It is a better predictor than other tests, than IQ, than grades and than peer judgment.

In the US, every year, this test is given to some children, and unfortunately the results are decreasing since 1984.

What is also unfortunate is that when people compare the education systems in different countries, they don't use these tests, they use other tests about abilities in writing and reading or in science that are not as good predictors of real world achievements.

These days there are many countries that are trying to improve their score on other tests. But sadly it looks like they are aiming at the wrong target.

And often the solution they use is increasing school hours which means decreasing play time. This is very bad, because it will probably decrease creativity and increase depression among the young.

As unemployment is high, many parents fearing for their kids future are also decreasing the time they leave for them to play.

To conclude, I hope that I could show you that play is a very important activity. Play is not the opposite of work. It is not the opposite of learning. It is the opposite of depression. It helps develop creativity, social intelligence, and it helps having fun.

My 5 years old kids, these days, likes to play by drawing pictures of boats, planes, submarines, drones. He is already very confident that he can design better ships and flying machines. A few weeks ago he even gave us a letter he had prepares with his new drone designs inside. On the envelope he had written "Dassault". (Dassault Aeronautics is a french company that produces planes.)