The Power of Play

kids-playing-outsideMy daughter attends a play-based preschool two mornings a week, and while there are many lovely and practical reasons for this choice, we really chose her program because we thought she’d have a great time.  Who doesn’t want to play all day?

Her thoughtful and experienced teachers find creative ways to sneak learning in, of course, but she is also learning from play itself.  More and more research is coming out, studies that show how vital imaginative play is for children’s brain development, and how detrimental it can be to take away that kind of play.  But what about grown-ups? Is play important for us?  How do we play? By hitting the bar, by watching TV? When do we get to truly use our imaginations, our bodies, in an unselfconscious and creative way?

Many adults join sports teams or participate in all different types of classes, from cooking to carpentry, but as great as these physical and creative outlets can be, they lack the spontaneous and imaginative spark of pure play.

Need For Play

So what can we do? A friend and I once agreed to have different names and histories for the entirety of our night, and while this did admittedly involve several bars, the silliness behind the evening would have been there regardless of the setting.  We essentially created a game for ourselves to play, just like we did when we were kids.

If you have kids, you can play with them, but it should be something imaginative, and something you enjoy.  I am the first to admit that listening to my daughter play dolls makes my brain feel like it’s melting out of my ears, but I think it’s hilarious when she chooses silly outfits for us and we talk in all kinds of different voices, creating different characters to be.

I also love to blare the radio when a favorite song comes on, grabbing my kids and swinging them around the room, and judging by their squeals and laughter, they love it too.  When was the last time you danced without thinking about what you looked like?  Danced like how you danced to a mix tape in your parents’ living room?  Belted out the words to a classic tune?  Halloween’s coming up; why not use it as an excuse to play?  Instead of trying to wear the skimpiest costume, or not dressing up at all, why not create a costume that speaks to your own sense of play, something absurd, or hilarious or wild.

Why not write a story, read a play out loud, play flashlight tag in the backyard or do cartwheels?  When was the last time you painted a picture, or hunted for bugs in the grass?  When did it become not OK to do these things?  I bet if you tried them again, you’d find they are still as fun and as satisfying as before.  Our brains may not be growing the same way children’s are, but they are always capable of developing in new ways.  If play is necessary for cognitive growth, we now have an excellent excuse for engaging in it!

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