of play and playfulness

There’s an organization called the Eastern Cooperative Recreation School. It’s been around a long time. They explain:

Since its founding in 1940, ECRS has offered recreational retreats based on these beliefs:

  • Recreation is a fundamental need of humankind, for it allows us to connect with other people and provides meaningful balance within our lives.
  • Recreation should allow individuals to grow at their own pace without being made to feel either superior or inferior for participating at their own level.
  • Recreation is important for its own sake and is valuable as a practical, experiential tool for use in communities by teachers and volunteers alike.

There’s a page on their site, called “of play and playfulness,” that brilliantly exemplifies their philosophy in action. There are 19 sections, and, for me, the most exemplary is their collection of games. Read their leadership guidelines. Follow them. Pick a few games. Play them. And you’ll understand, intimately, what ECRS has been teaching for more than 70 years. In the meantime, here’s something else contemplation-worthy that I found on that page: a passage from Action and Interaction, Connecting People Through Play, by Lanie Melamed.

Games are more complex than we imagine. As a reflection of universal concerns, they often express human attitudes toward life and death, the real and the supernatural, authority, courtship, trades and occupations. Many of the games we know today are vestiges of ancient customs and have been traced to religious rituals and social rites, e.g. tree or water worship ceremonies, the paying of forfeits and dowries, and the return of ancestral spirits.

Today’s games are seldom created anew, but like other folklore material are the result of additions and alterations by successive generations. Modern environmental, physical and social conditions have changed their shape but not their substance. Hiding, chasing, guessing and counting-out games are found in widely scattered parts of the world. Because of their common roots, many popular games will seem familiar to you, differing only in dramatic content, title or method of play from those you may have known in your own childhood.


  1. Shelly Immel on August 7, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Humans are such good recyclers at heart:
    “Today’s games are seldom created anew, but like other folklore material are the result of additions and alterations by successive generations.”

  2. Lily on August 7, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    I like that they call games folklore material. In ancient times before print, I imagine stories were told and acted out of ancient legends. Sometimes I think some of our games sprouted from those stories and dramas, so that children would learn them in order to pass on to the next generation. In a way, they were the very first RPG’s (Role Playing Games).

    I also love, love, love that they call recreation a “fundamental need of humankind”. It’s so easy to forget, but it is so, so, so needed.

    Love and laughter,

  3. Alan Lebwohl-Steiner on August 9, 2012 at 8:19 am

    Just discovered your article. I’m the current board chair of ECRS.

    Coming from you, the recognition and appreciation makes us feel especially proud.

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