Have You Forgotten How to Play? DON’T!

Mar 17, 2021

Take a moment and reflect back to your childhood. What is the first thing that comes to mind when asked “What were your favorite ways to play?” When I think about this, I enjoyed all types of play: imaginative play - creating all kinds of pretend scenarios; games with my friends; roller skating and having water gun fights: or playing kick the can with the neighborhood kids.  Play was always a part of my life growing up and continues to be as an adult. I now love to play with my dog; I play tricks on my children and husband now and then; I enjoy playing cards and games, hiking, tennis, and I even consider dancing a form of play. I can’t wait to spend time with my new grandbaby to play all kinds of games with her as she grows up. 

Some of the definitions of the word play include: 

  • To occupy self in amusement
  • To act or perform in jest
  • To pretend
  • To manipulate
  • To engage in an activity for enjoyment

In the last 20 years, extensive research has been done with regard to the benefits play has in our adult years. Findings show that those individuals who are more playful by nature tend to experience lower levels of stress. Play tends to open the creative pathways of our brains so that we may come up with fresh, new ideas after engaging in play as a break in our day. Play affects our social and emotional wellbeing as well. I have a 2 year old  “puppy” who begs me to play. In the afternoon after working most of the day, she will literally bark at me in a high pitch tone begging me to “come play”. As often as I can, I will either play hide and seek with a toy, a game of fetch, or chase in the yard. In as little as 15 minutes, I feel rejuvenated and ready to resume the work I had temporarily let go of.  

You may have heard the term “take some time to play with it” when learning a new concept or figuring out a new device or tool. Generally, this term suggests that you take some time to get acquainted with a new idea or tool, allowing yourself a period of trial and error without the worry of “getting it right”. As we watch children play, they are not caught up in getting things right or having to do something perfectly. There is a freedom to play where we can just be ourselves. Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play explains that “what all play has in common is that it offers a sense of engagement and pleasure, takes the player out of a sense of time and place, and the experience of doing it is more important than the outcome.” Anytime you are struggling with a new idea or a challenging situation, take a few minutes to let your mind wander, allow the creative brain to think outside the box and see if when you come back to the dilemma, you are able to generate ideas you had not previously thought of.  

Need some ideas of how to add play into your day? 

  • Engage in a hobby that captures your imagination, making sure that you enjoy the process and are not only focused on the end product. For example: flower arranging, gardening, cooking, photography, creative writing, playing an instrument, learning a new language.
  • Get together with others, safely of course, doing something everyone enjoys: getting coffee, playing a game of sorts, exploring a new spot. 
  • Playing actively: hiking, tennis, golf, walking with a friend, dancing, frisbee, bike riding. 
  • Visit a playground or park or beach- check out the swing that you haven’t been on since you were?  Build a sand castle! Don’t let the children have ALL the FUN!!!!

Whatever you choose to do, remember play is not just for those under 15 yrs old. Tap into your inner child, and let that child free.  You may be surprised how good you feel and you’ll cherish the memories those moments create.

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Ann Strader

Health Advisor • NBC-HWC, YRT

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