If you have ever been around a group of preschoolers you have probably seen pirates sailing across the seven seas ready to battle for their treasure, princesses looking longingly out of the window of a majestic castle, and artists using all of the colors available to them to create something beautiful that the world has never seen.
You were witnessing play – and it is very serious. So serious that the United Nations recognized it as a basic human right for children, up there with education and shelter.
Play, by definition, is engaging in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. But the thing is, for children, even as young as infants, there is a purpose and it is very practical. It teaches them to be empathetic humans and creative, curious learners.
While a child’s days can sometimes be oversaturated with school, homework, and extracurricular activities, play helps them to not only unwind, but make some pretty serious connections in the brain that allow them to experience traditional learning in a more enriching way – literally changing, for the better, how their brain develops.
The benefits of play are numerous. It should come as no surprise that play increases creativity in children and creates bonds with family and peers. But play, especially free play where there are no rules and adults are out of the picture, does so much more. Play also improves physical and mental health, improves vocabulary, and promotes impulse control – a critical quality for those entering school. Play can also help manage intense feelings and tap into underlying emotions in a constructive way.
But what if you are well past brain development stage, long since out of school? Good news, play is beneficial for adults too. For adults, play releases endorphins, improves brain functionality, and stimulates creativity, oh, and it keeps you feeling young and brings you joy – all good reasons to play more.
William & Mary University Play Professor (ok, she really is a senior lecturer on speech and communications), Michele King is such a proponent of play that she not only decided to research games for her Ph.D. but incorporates games into her public speaking class. “It really should be valued for what it is worth,” King says. “Game play is not just something you do as a kid. It’s something that you should continue to do throughout your life.”
Whether we are experiencing challenging times, or days when everything is going right, for everyone who is young to those who are young at heart, it’s time to climb a tree, invent a new world, or draw something incredible from your imagination – it’s playtime.