Importance of Play

This weekend, I attended the birthday party of my grand-nephew. He turned two. He was happily playing outside with his older cousin when it came time to come inside for cupcake-time. My grand-nephew threw a fit.

His contorted face and body showed the depth of his anguish at having to leave playtime. But, what captured my attention most was how quickly he shifted, adjusted and adapted from a tear-stained toddler to the cherubic little boy he usually is, totally absorbed in his next activity. Of course, getting to blow out three candles and eat a cupcake made the transition much easier.

Still, his behavior highlighted an important lesson for us all: it is essential that we all engage in play on a regular basis. Young children are living, breathing models of what it means to be “in the moment.” Play is an activity that strongly cultivates our “being in the moment” ability.

The importance of playtime and leisure time was recognized by the ancient Greeks as critical to developing strong minds. Play stimulates the release of molecules that make us more joy-filled, more flexible and adaptable, more empathic, and even more creative and effective problem-solvers. Play is among the most precious behaviors that we all too often lose sight of as we mature. My grand-nephew’s behavior reminded me of how important and how simple it is to reconnect.

Play can be characterized by 7 key features (read more from the National Institute for Play). As you read through these features below, ask yourself how you can bring more playtime into your days. Your brain and your life will thank you for it!

1)      Are you engaging in the activity without a clear-cut goal in mind?

2)      Are you doing the activity because you “want to” or because you “have to?” Play is about satisfying your wants.

3)     Simple test: does the activity make you feel good?

4)     Does the activity change your perception of time so that hours seem like minutes?

5)     Does it help you let go of worrying about superficial concerns like, “Am I doing this right?”

6)     When engaged in the activity, are you being creative and innovative, or rigid and rule bound?

7)     Finally, do you have so much fun you just want to keep doing it?