Play – at least the kind that builds brains, forwards development, and serves our emotions – is becoming an endangered activity among those who need to engage in it most and this includes us as adults. The science of play reveals the mind of Nature and gets to the very heart of the developmental approach. This course serves as a prerequisite to several more advanced courses with play as the focus.

Course Description

Why a course on play? How possibly could this be relevant to the challenges being faced by today's parents, teachers and therapists? The course will answer that question and more, hopefully opening up an exciting new universe of understanding for participants. Play is in fact one of the newest subjects of scientific inquiry - so broad in its scope that several different academic disciplines are involved, including neuroscience. As a result there is an emerging consciousness regarding play that is not only intellectually stimulating but immensely useful in most any arena of one's life, be it emotional or relational or developmental in nature, or be in for oneself or for one's children, students or clients.

In play we get to study the very mind of Nature itself. Play is the proverbial 'keyhole' through which we can get a glimpse of the mysterious inner workings of development. Play is not only the darling subject of the developmental approach but also its greatest defense.

What Dr. Neufeld brings to the play material is a comprehensive understanding of both attachment and development. He is able to join the dots in a way that no one else is quite yet equipped to do. The picture that emerges should inspire confidence in Nature as well as some resolve to help Nature do its work through play.

This course serves as a prerequisite to further courses on play, namely Play & Attachment and Play & Emotion. Together these two courses are offered as an onsite 'Advanced Intensive on Play'. Although Play 101 does not have any prerequisites, the other courses on play do have additional prerequisites. Please check these courses for further details (to be posted shortly).


The information contained in this course is relevant to everyone in today's society. It is a must for all those involved with your children - parents, daycare provides, early educators. It is also highly recommended for all serious students of Nature and all those who seek to play midwife to the unfolding of human potential. Playfulness is the key to healthy development and emotional well-being - a subject that is salient to everyone.

Formats & Fees

This course is available in the ONLINE CAMPUS COURSE format. See Course Format Options for format delivery, access, and content details.

Please note that this course is the first of three in our PLAY series (followed by Play and Attachment and Play and Emotion).

Tuition includes a four-month Virtual Campus study pass. See More On Online Campus Courses for further information on our two campus course formats (Self-Paced Study and Scheduled Online Class). Visit the course details page to register. If there is an upcoming Scheduled Online Class it will be posted directly above the Self-Paced Study button on the left-hand side.


In this and subsequent courses on play, students will discover that ..

  • play is Nature's 'womb' for after-birth development
  • play is not only for children
  • playfulness is a key indicator of optimal functioning and well-being
  • play is Nature's 'greenhouse' for developmental readiness
  • playfulness is a key indicator of optimal functioning and well-being
  • play is Nature's 'greenhouse' for developmental readiness
  • playfulness is the opposite of depression
  • play is Nature's 'cocoon' for inner transformation
  • play should be a primary instrument of behaviour control with children not yet capable of mixed feelings
  • play is Nature's 'primer' for attachment
  • true play has become an endangered activity in the digital world
  • play needs to be supported relationally
  • play is Nature's preparation for parenthood
  • play was meant to take care of our emotions
  • play is natural therapy
  • we cannot make anyone play or be playful
  • anything that can be controlled by reward is not play
  • resilience is the handiwork of emotion as served by play
  • one cannot be taught to play, only 'how' to play
  • play requires conducive conditions

Course Outline

Session 1 - The ESSENCE of Play: the six distinguishing characteristics of true play.

Just what is play and how can we differentiate it from other activities? Defining play turns out to be more challenging than one would suspect. Because play engages, the word and construct has been used to promote an endless array of activities that masquerade as play but can actually compete with the real thing. This is especially true in the world of sports and gaming and even art and music. In addition, we seem to have got ourselves stuck in some reductionist ruts where play has to do with what children do at recess and in playgrounds or on screens. Knowing what true play is sets the stage for understanding what play is all about. Dr. Neufeld synthesizes the literature into the six essential characteristics that differentiate this vital activity for all others.

Session 2 - The NATURE of Play: ten things to know about play

Building on the definition of what true play really is, we explore ten things that are true of play and that are important for us to be aware of. For example, play is spontaneous and instinctive by nature, one of three basic drives, and a form of rest with full system activation. This knowledge is crucial if we are to understand the purpose of play as well as to preserve its role in our own lives and the lives of our children and students. In addition, knowing that play is fragile and easily pre-empted sets the stage for creating traditions and rituals to protect this endangered activity.

Session 3 - The PURPOSE of Play: a dozen reasons we all need to play

Play never really looks as if it is up to anything at all, except perhaps filling time. How fooled we have been. It turns out that play is Nature's way of taking care of us. Despite appearing somewhat purposeless, play has the most noble purpose of all, the unfolding of our potential in most every way this can be conceived. Whether it be the potential in our brain, our attachments, our emotions, our learning, our problem solving, or even our sense of self - play is meant to serve us throughout the lifespan. One could say that play is truly NATURE INCOGNITO. Despite all of our sophistication and knowledge as humans, we have not been able to improve on the brilliant blueprint that is play. Neglecting Nature's solution is at our own peril and that of our children. The tragic irony is that we as a society have attempted to achieve through hard work what Nature had already designed as the natural and spontaneous outcomes of play.

Session 4 - Creating a CULTURE of Play: setting the stage for play

Play is meant to take care of us but what is meant to take care of play? Although vitally important, play is never urgent and certainly doesn't demand the space it needs to serve its purpose. In this session we explore the pivotal role of culture with regards to play, including the impact of having lost our rituals and customs around rest and play. The good news is once we understand the conditions that are conducive to true play, we can re-create a much-needed culture of play in our homes and in our schools. The primary challenge in today's society is in carving out the space for true play to happen, and then holding ourselves or our children in this space until true play finds us. We will explore how we can help to create the rituals, customs and traditions needed to allow play to have its way with us.

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