Has Play Become a 4 Letter Word?

In some kindergarten classrooms children are limited to ‘just playing’ at recess. Teachers, administration and parents are getting pressured to prepare kids for technical learning at earlier ages than ever before. Instead of learning through play, kindergarten has become preparation for grade 1 and so on.

Learning through play in the classroom is an amazing thing and something that is not accepted everywhere, particularly in a school setting. –The Kindergarten Connection

If the need for children at the age of 5 and 6 to use play in order to learn in the classroom is being questioned, what hope is there for adults? It is now accepted that a human brain does not become fixed at a young age, rather it continues to change throughout life. While some might be pushing kids out of ‘learning through play’ too soon, the benefits are widely understood as critical for healthy childhood development. By using this logic, I wonder why there should be an age at which we stop using play to help develop our brains? Could this be a way for adults to reduce stress and lead happier lives? Certainly Adults Need Recess Too.

Play reinforces the child’s growth and development. Some of the more common functions of play are to facilitate physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and moral development. –Encyclopedia of Children’s Health

If play can have this effect on young minds, why do we assume there comes a point in time when the brain should move away from play and still be able to continue development in critical areas? If we consider current affairs, the argument could be made that turning to play in order to bolster moral development is critically needed in the world. It seems that some people either did not get enough play time or missed those lessons completely. A solution might be found in Staying Young at Heart and prioritizing play as a lifelong quest.

Making matters worse for adults and the activity of play is that only some forms are considered acceptable. As well, the limited scope of choices are labeled with gender or age. Competitive sports are widely considered a viable form of play and in many countries dominated by men. Crossword puzzles are for women and old people. Dancing the night away at a club is for young adults. Perhaps getting past the stereotypes or labels being assigned to play and understanding The Benefits of Play For Adults is the better way to think of it.

In his book Play, author and psychiatrist Stuart Brown, MD, compares play to oxygen. He writes, “…it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.” This might seem surprising until you consider everything that constitutes play. Play is art, books, movies, music, comedy, flirting and daydreaming, writes Dr. Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play. –PsychCentral

It is important to identify all the ways that play might already exist in the day to day routine. As well, think back to what might have been fun ways to pass time as a child. I loved LEGO and could spend days immersing myself in the stories of what I had built. My Mother gave me the materials and a first few ideas, then with the help of my sisters, we ran with it. It is not surprising that I am very interesting in the role of creativity in adult life and specifically how to use LEGO in order to build it. There is great power in working with our hands to build a model which is a personal metaphor of our lived experience.

The beauty of creativity and play is, they are not limited by any kind of construct. There are no rules, unless we agree with others that in order to play a game we need some. But even when a group comes together play can be parallel. Artists guilds or photography clubs don’t need rules in order to function. The act of coming together to share the individual creative and playful process, adds to the experience. The only question is what form of play are we drawn to as adults?

Besides employing play for the pure fun of the activity, there is a health benefit which some of us probably need. Play helps to reduce stress and bring our minds to the present moment, instead of worrying about the future or agonizing about what happened in the past. Imagine if something as simple as Art Therapy Exercises could create a greater sense of well-being. 

In a world that looks for quick fixes at every turn, I would think it is worthwhile to research How Creativity Actually Improves Your Health. A small effort to understand what to amplify of current habits and new ideas to test. I just wish we could see the return on time investment for a little extra play and creativity rather than consuming so much negative news and spreading the resulting vitriol. A little better balance would surely be a good thing.  

I guess it always come back to priorities. After all, if we looked closely at how we spend our time, even the people who claim to not play at all and who are declared to be not creative, are actually engaged. The question becomes, how do we amplify and build from what is already there? Follow our curiosity and keep going with what feels good in the moment.

Hopefully this lights a fire of curiosity and puts a little spring in your step. Get outside and play, it is time to have some creative fun.

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