At the moment many parents are spending more time with their children than ever before, which has its wonderful and awful aspects. There’s been a lot of focus on home-schooling and parents skilling up to become de-facto teachers. But the situation also presents possibilities for parents to learn from their kids – about play.
Play can mean a lot of different things. It can be about exploration, testing things, fantasy, finding out how things work, developing talents (and muscles), improving defenses and imagining different points of view. Play contributes to creative thinking and allows the safe release of strong feelings. It also releases stress.
Play is serious stuff, and as kids we’re all masters at it. Unfortunately, growing up sometimes means becoming inhibited and forgetting how to play, which is sad, because play is a big part of pleasure too.
Kids don’t have strong walls between the play part of themselves and everything else, which is what makes them so much fun (and sometimes infuriating) to be with.
For mature humans, sex, drama, sport, music and videogames retain strong play components, but there’s a risk of play being more about watching than doing as we get older, and that sort of play is less life-changing.
Many of us have been encouraged to feel guilty about play, and work is also invading adult play spaces more and more (from the beach to the bedroom) via electronic gadgets and all their demands.
Not content with organising the fun out of their own lives, some parents have scheduled open-ended childrens’ play out of existence via wall-to-wall lessons and extracurricular activities, but there’s evidence that this can be completely counter-productive. As humans we actually need play – that’s why it evolved.
Dr Lenore Terr, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, found that people who play into adulthood live longer than those who don’t, as well as being happier and more creative.
The secret seems to be that play allows us to test things (for example simulated emergencies) without actually getting into trouble – at least until someone loses an eye!
In a clinical setting, therapies like Play of Life and Play Therapy can help release trauma and process trapped emotions. But you don’t need to pay an expert to benefit from play in everyday life.
Playing can be as simple as going to the beach, or as complicated as taking on a chess Grandmaster. You can play with ideas or with Lego or with your dog. But don’t stop playing, no matter how old you are.
If you’re not sure how to start, ask a five year old!