With all the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the simple joys of childhood become even more important. Hearing the words, “Go outside and play,” was a common theme of my growing years. This was a valuable time to relax and enjoy ourselves without the pressure of performing for an audience. We could be wild pirates conquering new worlds, or simply lay on a sunny rock marveling at the many legs of a centipede while listening to the piercing cries of the birds.
As I have grown older, I have also seen a cultural shift. It has become increasingly common for parents to manage, and even micromanage, every moment in their child’s day in order to pack each moment with developmentally appropriate activities to ensure their future success. Believe me, I get it. Children bring out the protective instincts in us all, that push us to provide moment by moment direction. We want so badly for these children to avoid making mistakes that our own younger selves experienced. However, looking back at my own youth, the times that were the most formative and enjoyable were not planned or managed. They happened when I had room to go off script and to just play, regardless of the consequences of making mistakes along the way. No one is able to correctly navigate through social interactions with those around them 100 percent of the time, but play provides an opportunity for children to fail repeatedly, and yet to still keep trying until they begin to get things right.
What is Play?
The purpose of play is a bit of a paradox— “to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.” Its purpose is to be purposeless! Although, that is not the whole story. The essence of play lies in freedom. Choosing to read Moby Dick for fun is a very different experience than reading it for a literature class. The first case throws you right onto the deck of the Pequod, smelling the salt air and hearing the delusional ravings of Captain Ahab. The latter requires analyzing character and plot development while unpacking the symbolism behind a giant white whale. Neither way of reading is better or worse than the other. Rather, it is important to recognize the importance of each.
Engaging in play jump starts a child’s physical, mental, emotional, social, and even moral development. Group sports and puzzle games have obvious and often promoted benefits along these lines. More surprisingly, video games can also provide emotional and character development skills. It takes persistence and planning to play through a lengthy adventure game. Many of these games also feature elements of logic, strategy, as well as time and resource management which are all incredibly important skills for any adult.Since each game is freely chosen and can be freely stopped at any time, following the rules of the game becomes very important in order to allow each participant to interact on equal footing. Any player who becomes too bossy or controlling will have to choose between correcting their behavior or potentially losing their desired playmates.
Who should play?
The United Nations recognizes play as a fundamental right of childhood, alongside other freedoms of thought, speech, religion and others that we hold so dear. Such a basic element should never be absent from our lives, but how easy is it to forget? Although the drive to play is an important feature of childhood it is harder to recognize its significance in the other phases of life. However, even if the high activity levels of childhood are no longer as prominent, even the quieter manifestations of play can have meaningful effects. Adults who play word games or engage in purely social interactions can experience greater mental functioning throughout their lives.
Play alongside the children in your life. Not by taking over and directing their games, but as a sincere participant without an agenda. Allow them to teach you again how to play. When you jump into their world, it will become easier to see the wonder through their eyes. This can be an active game of football or a quiet afternoon of sorting through a stamp collection. Whatever your child chooses. The recent rise in the popularity of adult coloring books just affirms the fact that we all crave play time. The more you engage in it, the more you will come to realize that it’s not just for them, it’s for you as well.
Ginsburg, Kenneth R. “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds.” Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 Jan. 2007, pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182. Accessed 3 Oct. 2017.
Gray, Peter. “The Value of Play I: The Definition of Play Gives Insights.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 19 Nov. 2008, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200811/the-value-play-i-the-definition-play-gives-insights. Accessed 3 Oct. 2017.
Shapiro, Jordan. “Who Plays Which Games? And What Does That Say About Our Culture?” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 21 Oct. 2016, www.forbes.com/sites/jordanshapiro/2016/10/21/who-plays-which-games-and-what-does-that-say-about-our-culture/#1cf22a65af64. Accessed 3 Oct. 2017.
Wallace, Jennifer. “Why it’s Good for Grown-Ups to go Play.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 20 May 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/why-its-good-for-grown-ups-to-go-play/2017/05/19/99810292-fd1f-11e6-8ebe-6e0dbe4f2bca_story.html?utm_term=.86cd4795fb89. Accessed 3 Oct. 2017.
Wilson, Ruth A. “Fostering Goodness & Caring: Promoting Moral Development of Young Children.” Earlychildhood NEWS – Article Reading Center, Excelligence Learning Corporation, 2008, www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=565. Accessed 3 Oct. 2017.