Kids love to play, I mean really LOVE it! They’ll wriggle and squirm out of every chore, homework sheet or dentist appointment that they possibly can, just so they can play. My eldest lad hangs out with his mate, tries to beat the world press-up record, or disappears inside his ipod for ages. My youngest makes up fantasy worlds, and inhabits them daily. Why? Because it’s fun! These guys couldn’t be happier than when they’re absorbed in some kind of play. Did you know, though, that play is crucial for us adults too? According to Dr Stuart Brown, play is “a basic biological drive”.
We know, for example, that animals play. We ‘get’ that they have to practise their hunting skills, dominance struggles or escape tactics, but the need to play goes beyond their simple need to rehearse adult strategies. It’s crucial for the complete development of their brains. One researcher noticed that if young rats were denied rough and tumble play, they had significant social problems as they matured into adulthood and were unable to mate. I wonder if this is true for us … Could explain a thing or two, I reckon.
Anyway, how can play help us in our daily lives?
- Play helps stave off mental and physical decline, particularly as we get older. It helps keep us supple – especially if Twister is your daily game of choice! Exercise in general has obvious health benefits, but mental games (as opposed to ‘mind’ games, which is something else altogether!), also help to keep our brains ticking over and our neural connections intact.
- Play refreshes us. Often, when we’re chewing over an issue that refuses to go away and die quietly in some forgotten corner, we suddenly find the answer when we’re lost in play. It’s as if we’ve given our brain some time off. So, while we get absorbed in a fun activity, our neurons whizz about and make new connections that somehow provide us with the solution to our problem. Wahaay!
- Play taps into our creativity. When we play, we’re allowed to do something just for the pure fun of it. It doesn’t have to make sense; it doesn’t have to serve some industrious purpose. It’s just fun. And out of that joyful abandonment comes something wonderfully creative. It could be closer relationships with the people you play with, especially family. It could be a work of art, a new song, or a new invention. Some of the most creative and successful people are those whose lives incorporate the most fun, and see little distinction between it and work. Take Richard Branson, for example, or even Thomas Edison who said, “I didn’t do a day’s work in my life. It was all fun”. Have a look at this 10-year-old’s story and see where his ‘play’ has taken him.
- Play makes us feel better. Smiling and laughter release endorphins into our system – the natural pain-killers and feel-good chemicals. And, if we feel better, we operate better. We’re able to take the knocks and spills of family life with greater grace and composure. In simple terms, we’re nicer to be with! So, the next time we hear our kids complaining, “Oh dad, you never have time to play with me/read to me/fix my bike.” maybe we’ll think twice before we moan.
In our family, my husband bakes cakes and goes for long walks (or runs) in the country with our dog. I go for shorter walks to see the lambs and check on the local flaura – I mean, why stress over a five-mile walk if I can find everything I need within half a mile of my front door? He likes listening to music which, strangely, I find rather annoying. But I like to make music which then seems rather weird. Mind you, we both like to read, and enjoy watching good dramas and films together.
What’s your favourite way of having fun? Share your thoughts, and it might inspire a few of us to try something new.