Benefits of Play (for Grown-Ups)

By Rebecca Honig, Ready4K director of content

This blog post has ONE purpose: TO INSPIRE YOU TO PLAY.

This blog post writer is going to try many tactics to get you to play. She’s going to pull out all the stops. If this blog post falls short and does NOT inspire you to play, this blog post writer will be very sad. And then she’ll mope around and eat way too much pasta and ice cream. No one wants that to happen. Right?!?

(See? She’s already tried her first tactic—guilt).

Did it work? Are you playing? No? Okay, on to the next tactic.

Evidence-Based Reasoning

As educators, you know the value of play for children. You know children do some of their deepest and most meaningful learning through play. You know it’s how they learn about the world. How they stretch their abilities. Play lets them explore roles and responsibilities, process emotions, and learn to collaborate. When kids play, they grow their physical abilities, their flexible thinking skills, and their creativity. 

The benefits of play are so vast and profound that in 2018 the American Academy of Pediatrics released an article that began:

“Imagine if pediatricians could write a prescription to help patients during the first two years of well-child visits that would boost social-emotional, cognitive, language and self-regulation skills. Research shows they can, and the “prescription” to write is simple: “Play with your child every day.”

Coming out of this past year there is a renewed focus on the importance of play. After a year of so much trauma and turmoil, of so much confinement and isolation, free play offers children the opportunity to imagine and wonder, to explore and express freely.

In their book Play and it’s role in the mental development of the child, Bruner et all stress the fact that play is typically buffered from real-life consequences, which is exactly what kids need right now.

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Play lets kids try things out, learn, and discover on their own terms. In other words, the kinds of learning moments that kids couldn’t engage in during the pandemic.

(Ok, I have to say it: this is EXACTLY the kind of activity that Ready4K inspires. So if you haven’t taken a look at our family engagement programs, that should be your first post-playtime project. Now let’s continue…)

But the gains do not stop with children!

So, are you playing? No?!?

Let’s try another angle. 

A Personal Connection

Remember back to when you were a child. Those days when you’d lose yourself in an activity. Maybe it was physical play outside with friends. Maybe it was an object, like a doll or car or building set that inspired you to imagine.

I can still conjure the feeling of playing with my sister in a little cabinet under the bathroom sink. We spent hours crammed in that tiny space pretending it was a submarine, a bakery, a lab. Each time we’d emerge I remember feeling like I’d just come back from a secret vacation. Totally happy and exhausted. YOU can have that feeling back. 

Are you ready to play? 

How About a Bribe?

If you play you will quite possibly get a break from many of the things that are bothering you. Would you like to feel better physically? Would you like to laugh? No problem, those are just a few of the benefits of play!

I’ve got it! Let’s try inspiration.

If you are not yet ready to play, maybe these videos from the Ready4K Family Fun Hour workshop on play will help: 

Nature Play with Ms. Rebecca’s Friends
Playing Pretend with Sir Sparks
Stretching Silly Muscles with Señorita Luna

Ok, time to find your play type

I’m going to assume YOU. ARE. READY. Now what? What does play look like for you? 

Play is hard to define. I like a definition offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics. And I think it maps well onto adult life too:

“The definition of play is elusive. However, there is a growing consensus that it is an activity that is intrinsically motivated, entails active engagement, and results in joyful discovery. Play is voluntary and often has no extrinsic goals; it is fun and often spontaneous.”

To get started playing, Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play recommends thinking back to the play you enjoyed as a child and trying to connect that to your life now. 

Physical Play
Child hopscotching

Did you enjoy physical play as a child? Our director of marketing, Mary, was a big fan of chasing games, rolling down grassy hills, going sledding, and skipping. And if the neighbors had drawn a hopscotch board in front of their house, she was definitely going to be late to school.

Now when it comes to physical play, she’s a big fan dancing to songs from the 80’s, dragon boat racing, paddle boarding, running, and yoga.

Playing with Objects
Rebecca's hand puppet, the Teenies

Did you love playing with objects as a child—dolls, puppets, cars or blocks? Well, these same objects hold great play potential even for you as a grownup.

The pandemic brought me a newfound love of making puppets. I can tell you from experience, lima beans make delightful characters. Also, forts. SOOOO MANY FORTS.

Ready4k’s Director of Partnerships Megan has turned her attention to LEGO. All day. Everyday (when she’s not working, of course).

Nature-Based Play
Person stomping through puddles

Did your childhood include lots of nature play? Curran, Ready4K’s sales and partnerships associate, used to hold snail races in her driveway, complete with little lanes and finish lines made of twigs. She loved playing in water and she LOVED climbing trees. She loved climbing so much in fact that she broke both wrists (on different occasions, falling from different trees). 

Now she keeps both feet on the ground as she heads out to identify plants using an app she has on her phone. And she still loves playing in water.

Pretend Play
Child imagining

Were hours of your childhood devoted to pretend play? Our senior content specialist, Françoise, grew up in a neighborhood without kids her own age. So she created a group of imaginary friends to keep her company. They’d go on lots of adventures and they always wanted to do what she wanted to do! 

When she wasn’t with them, she devoted much of her pretend time to putting on epic dance performances for a pretend audience of thousands (and a real audience of her dog, Charles). 

As a grownup, pretend play may look a little different (or not). But it’s still just as fun. 

Sometimes as I’m working, I sit up extra straight, put on a fancy hat, write with a Sharpie, and pretend that everything I put on paper is FINAL and IMPORTANT.

Music
Woman singing

Try out an instrument. Speaking from experience, the banjo is much easier to play than the violin. Kazoos are surprisingly delightful (for a short time) and the fastest way to feel like a rock star is to drum along to a song you LOVED in high school.

Karaoke can be a great way to pack in some play, too. 

Play with Your World
Person doodling

Grab a pen and play. Doodle, draw, try your hand at playing with words to create a story or poem. 

Play with design, rearrange the furniture, try a collage, stack some rocks outside to make a tower. 

Try some play in the kitchen. These days Megan and Françoise often can be found playing with ingredients, baking and creating new treats for friends and family.

FINALLY, if you need that last little nudge to get you inspired by the benefits of play, here’s my advice: find a child, any child (given your field, I’m betting you have access to one). Watch them build worlds, and then, when the time is just right. Ask that magical question…

Can I play too?

Family playing superheroes

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