lessons from child’s play

06/10/2011

by carolyn mathews

I started thinking about the loss of play in our adult lives when I read an article in the New York Times about the importance of play in the development of children. Play occurs when we find something we engage in that amuses us or provides recreation.

Play happens outside of school (or work) and, although we may play alone, most often it involves socializing. According to the article, today’s children experience far less play than children did a few decades ago. It doesn’t seem that long ago, (although it is), that my brother and I would spend the summer playing. We’d go out after breakfast, come home for lunch, and go out again until we were called in for dinner. Along with other neighborhood kids, we played organized games like baseball, and created other games. We ran around and rode bikes; had funerals for birds killed by local cats; and set up Popsicle and lemonade stands. I don’t intend to romanticize my summers back then. Certainly, not everyone on the block got along (parents or kids), so we all had to figure out a way to settle differences.

Sometimes, big differences between kids (especially with the local bully) required our parents to get involved. These summers full of play provided us with lessons for later in life. Indeed, educators and psychologists state “that most of the social and intellectual skills one needs to succeed in life are first developed through childhood play.” Play involves thinking, creating, socializing, and moving. The kids on my block not only had time to be active and laugh, but we also learned basic commerce from the lemonade stands, learned empathy towards our neighbors who were hurt from a rough game, and learned how to resolve conflict, either on our own or by watching our parents. All of these skills are necessary in the workplace, too! In addition, it can reduce stress and increase laughter, both of which have health benefits. Further, play provides an opportunity to experience “flow,” those moments when you are so engrossed in an activity that you lose all sense of time because of your focus in the moment. With the health, psychological, and social benefits of play apparent in children, why do many of us stop playing when we’re adults? While some of us have opportunities to play when we have young children at home, for many of us life gets very busy and play drops to the bottom of our priorities. Eventually, our children grow up; they leave the house and our “excuses” for play leave with them. However, as adults, we can choose to re-introduce ourselves to play! Don’t all those benefits make you want to play again? “Tag. You’re it!”

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