We all remember growing up. The first time we twirled or rolled so much that laughter, interlaced with a smidgeon of fear, burst from within us as the world spun around uncontrollably and the mind tucked away a note to maybe spin a little less next time. We sampled the roles of mommy or daddy, worker, leader, follower, and friend as we played dress up together or joined in team games on the playground. We dropped objects from tables, stairwells, and out car windows with genuine awe as the mysteries of how these things worked unfolded before our very eyes. We spontaneously erupted in play, as we naturally found new ways to move the body, new ways to see the world, new ways to feel connected with it all.
When children engage in play, they engage in an adventurous journey through the unknown. Play allows you to take chances, to explore edges, to uncover workings of the physical body, subtleties in social and emotional dynamics, expressions of creativity, and to conduct investigations and form solutions through active problem solving. Play is the foundation of learning. Play is critical for growth. Play is an essential element in the development of a bright, well-rounded, well-adjusted person.
Why then do we limit play to children? Why, as they grow older, do we discourage children from going to this natural place of curiosity, wonder, and learning? Why, when we become adults, does play disappear?
While there may be a question about whether you can form new neuron synapses or the brain can improve its functionality after a certain age, there is no question that play, at any age, provides an opportunity for exploration, sensation, and learning.
So, grab your neighbor’s hand and go run through that pile of leaves in the middle of the yard, or roll down that grassy hill, or scoop up some snow or sand and build with it. Dip your fingers in paint and slide them across an empty canvas. Lie on your back, grab your feet and roll from side to side like a happy baby. Smile, laugh, and dig deep down into your inner child and let it shine in the wonder, curiosity, and learning of play.
If you’re worried about what other folks may think as you get silly, serious, loud, or creative in your play, invite them to join in. Free yourself and others from the misperception that there is no room in adulthood for play. Engaging in play could be the best thing to keep you agile in mind, body, and spirit and ensure a lifetime full of curiosity, wonder, and awe. Imagine what you might not discover, what you might not feel, what you might not learn, who you might not become if you never played.
Play is the work of children…and of healthy adults too.