This was written for my Close to Home column that appears in the local weekly, The Prospect-News, in Doniphan, MO.
We might be doing it all wrong, being so serious and grown up, fragmenting our lives into family time, work time, play time. Perhaps we think of play as frivolous, unnecessary and unaffordable, feeling immature and irresponsible if we plan for a bit of it in our busy schedules.
The reality is we ALL need MORE play, adults and kiddos alike, as part of everyday routines.
And now the brain can be studied when in a state of play; nothing lights it up more!
But, no, that does not mean putting us in designated spaces and demanding us to play for an allotted time. Nothing dampens fun like being ordered to have it.
Play enhances learning, creates better problem solvers and wears many disguises. Watch mammas and daddies with a newborn. Social play starts then, with eye contact, funny faces, silly noises and lots of smiles. Body play loosens up the nerves and neurons; running, jumping, swinging are timeless activities. Pre-schoolers master rough-and-tumble play early. Too much walking in single file, not talking or touching, would have negative effects.
Imaginative play is a great tool to create positive family interactions and promote healthy fantasy. A child figuring out that just maybe Santa Claus is not real will exercise his brain in ways similar to that of a scientist looking for Alzheimer’s treatments or solutions to global warming by debating the possible versus the impossible.
Storytelling connects us. Some of my favorites are based around family Christmases- candlelight dinners, church cantatas, live Nativity settings, visits to Santa – as a kid and later with mine – drives to see the lights, magical snows, school performances on those scary risers, caroling, sneaking into Grandma’s candy stored in the unheated bedroom and listening to all the laughter.
Spectator/ritual play is part of our lives, too. Consider the Cubs fans; they are not moving on from their fun too quickly, relishing it while they can. Many of us prepare special foods just at this time of year, pull out the old LP’s to listen to family favorites, watch the same TV specials annually, and hide presents to help Santa.
Play is important enough that some corporate research and development departments look at how much employee candidates may have played/worked with their hands. Graduating from elite institutions with honors is not always a valid predictor of problem-solving potential, whereas play is. It took a neuroscientist who studies the hand/brain connection and a high school auto mechanics teacher to increase interest in that link.
If we get some snow, get a little object play in with the kids; have a snowball fight, build a snowman or hop onto a sled. Mold memories with stories and laughter.
Have a blessed, playful Christmas holiday.