ENP Blog

Play: What Is It?

I have been working on a blog about Play for some time now.  However, I hadn’t been able to narrow my focus well enough to share some of the things I have come to know about play in a concise and effective way. That being said, my intent is to simply share bits and pieces of the things that I have come to know about play. I’ll begin with an attempt to answer this question: “What is play exactly, anyway?”.

To answer this question, I turn to Dr. Stuart Brown. He is one of the leading experts and researcher in the area of play. Dr. Brown has hesitation in defining play, saying:

  • Though I have studied play for decades, I have long resisted giving an absolute definition of play because it is so varied.

  • Another reason I resist defining play is that at its most basic level, play is very primal activity. It is preconscious and preverbal… play in its most basic form proceeds without a complex intellectual framework.

  • Finally, I hate to define play because it is a thing of beauty best appreciated by experiencing it.

Dr. Brown says that he was forced out of his stance of not defining play by a colleague. He was doing a presentation to a group of Hewlett-Packard (HP) engineers, and his co-presenter asked him what definition of play he was planning to present. He gave his usual answer of  “Well, I don’t give an absolute definition because play is so varied.” His colleague replied with “These are engineers. If you don’t have a definition they will eat you alive!” So as a scientist, Dr. Brown quickly put together a couple of slides laying out the properties of play. Here is what he presented:


  • Apparently purposeless (done for its own sake)
  • Voluntary
  • Inherent Attraction
  • Freedom from time
  • Diminished consciousness of self
  • Improvisational potential
  • Continuation desire

Dr. Brown also shared with a framework for play devised by Scott Eberle, an intellectual historian of play and vice president of the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester New York. Eberle says that play involves six elements; anticipation, surprise, pleasure, understanding, strength and poise.

Dr. Brown, in his excellent book “Play How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul” says that Johan Huizinga, a Dutch historian, offers another good definition of play. Huizinga describes play as:

“A free activity standing quite consciously outside ordinary life as being not serious but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained from it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to rules and in an orderly manner.”

At this point, some of you may be asking “But what does this all have to do with ENP, Saturday Sports and the Kingdom work we are doing in our schools, neighborhoods and communities?” Well, Dr. Brown said that after his presentation, many of the HP engineers said they saw play in a new light.

My hope and prayer is that this blog might be a first step on a journey of discovery that changes the way we not only see and understand play, but that our new insight and understanding might inform our practice of play. Play for the students we serve, but for ourselves as well. Finally my hope is that play might find it’s rightful place of co-existence and equality in the in the realm of education and ministry.

Contact me if you want to continue this conversation on play.

Brian Semsem


Born and raised in Delano, CA. Married to his best friend, Jessica Semsem for nineteen wonderful years. Five amazing children, six wonderful grandchildren. The love of family is the source of Brian's passion for loving and serving others in our community. As the new Saturday Sports Coordinator, Brian is looking forward to the great privilege of working with all of our partnership volunteers and school staff throughout this great city who are passionate about kids, family, and community!

Brian SemsemPlay: What Is It?

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