When is the last time you did something that was so stimulating, fun and pleasurable that you lost track of time? We often become so wrapped up our to do lists, deadlines and worries about the future that we forget to take time to unwind and relax. Play is voluntary, pleasurable, and the act is more important than the outcome.
We have known for a long time that childhood play is critical for brain development. Play is essential for youths' cognitive, physical, social and emotional well being. Play also offers a chance for connection with care gives and strengthening of emotional bonds. Play time for children has been significantly decreased in the past several years, likely due to our busy lifestyles and increased attention paid to academics and extracurricular activities that have been incorporated at the expense of recess or free child centered time. These things are important but we should always be striving for a balance and advocating for and encouraging ongoing play in children's lives. Undirected play allows children to learn to share, practice decision making and conflict resolution skills, build self confidence and self advocacy, and foster their creativity. When adults observe or join kids in play they learn to see the world from their child's point of view and foster deeper connections with their young ones.
Play time shouldn't end as we get older. More and more research is now showing that healthy play is important in adulthood as well and can lead to positive changes in mood. Play helps us maintain our social well being and reduce stress. "Play" could mean reading a book, hiking outdoors, playing a board game, collecting coins, or shooting hoops. Each person's sense of play is different but the common denominator is that play should offer a sense of pleasure and engagement and be done for its own sake and not necessarily for a desired outcome. To benefit most from the therapeutic benefits of play we need to incorporate it into our every day lives instead of waiting for those one or two week vacations every year.
Ways to incorporate play into your life:
- Plan to set aside time for play each day whether it be alone or with others, quiet or active
- Set up a weekly game night. Game nights take minimal effort to set up and are a great way to have fun and connect.
- Try to get up and move around every hour. Many of us sit all day long without taking time to move, reset or break up our day.
- Think back to something that brought you joy, contentment or laughter. Try to set aside time in your life to ignite your past hobbies or interests.
- Shut off your television or computer and use unscheduled time to be creative, daydream, reflect or move.
- Try something new or do something for the first time
- Dance for the fun of it
- Check out your local community events and sign up for an activity such as gardening, yoga, writing, basketball, ect
- Take a walk or a day trip without any plans or route.
- Try to experience new things and gain a different perspective regarding the world around you.
- Create something without the thought of success. Draw, try pottery, paint, write, ect
- Take some time to play with animals. Hang out at the local dog park, volunteer at your local shelter or take your own four legged friends for a walk.
- Spend unhurried, uninterrupted time with children in your life, observing them, asking them questions and taking their lead.