Play – that’s what children do, right? It has no real importance or place in the world of an adult. Think about that statement for a moment. Think about the last time you went out with your friends, the last sports match you played in, the last time you played with an idea and created something, or indeed the last time you played a game on your phone.
Play is an inherent human need and it’s something that we all engage in naturally, no matter how old we are. Having recently launched The Play Well Trust, I have become acutely aware of the essential nature and value of play, and here are five reasons that play is so good for us.
1. Play helps us to create and find solutions:
We are all familiar with the concept of ‘playing with ideas’; children use this a lot when learning about new concepts or acquiring new skills. When learning to write, for example, children will use play such as mark-making, pretending to write an order in a role-play restaurant, creating patterns, using playdough and drawing shapes in sand to practise these skills before they pick up a pencil and start to write formally. This enables them to become confident in their abilities, before they put pencil to paper.
Similarly for adults, we often hold and change ideas in our minds before drawing them up or trying them out.
Some big companies, such as Google, really promote the use of playfulness amongst their employees; their offices are testament to their belief that play and fun enable their staff to be more productive and creative. At Google, staff are encouraged to play games such as beach volleyball, go bowling, take part in creative activities and interact with their colleagues. In some offices, there is even a giant slide installed for employees to use instead of taking the stairs!
You may wonder whether all this playtime is beneficial economically for Google, but, as one of the most successful global companies, where its employees regularly manage to surpass all expectations and targets, it’s fairly obvious that play works.
2. Play helps us build relationships:
If you watch a wildlife documentary, you will often see young animals ‘playing’ within their group or family to build bonds and identify where they belong. As humans, we use play in a similar way.
Within families, play offers a supportive, safe and familiar space that helps us to bond with our siblings – it teaches us how to interact with others, how to debate and resolve issues, how to use imagination and how our family works.
When parents engage in play with their children, an attachment is formed between them. From those early days of playing peek-a-boo with a young baby to trying to play board games without arguing with your older children, play is important and it’s something we should promote.
Play is also essential in adult life. Space and freedom to spend time with friends, share a meal together, do something creative, take part in sports and just have a good laugh together is vital for our mental health.
3. Play brings joy, laughter and happiness:
Everyone you read about and see in the media is on a journey to find happiness and fulfilment. The latest trends, crazes and diets promise to deliver these to us for a fee – but, the truth is, it’s the simple things like healthy eating, being in nature, play and relationships that are the key to human happiness.
Selina Yeoman, Play Therapist and adviser to The Play Well Trust, writes:
“The quickest and most effective way of increasing how good we feel is through laughter; it lowers the stress hormones in a person’s body and leaves them feeling happier and more relaxed. As parents, we can choose to connect with our children in playful ways, switch off the desire to problem solve and instead create a playful atmosphere where you can laugh often and enjoy each other.”
Laughter really is the best medicine and play and playful activity can bring laughter by the bucketload.
4. Play helps us to heal and reminds us of who we are:
Play is a fantastic medium for enabling children, in particular, to safely identify with and work through their emotions and the possible outcomes of different behaviours; for adults, play can bring a sense of relief. As a busy mum of three, I know that any time off I get to go and ‘play’ with friends and family reminds me of who I really am. Our identity can often become lost and dismissed in everyday life.
But, more than this, play is a powerful healing tool and its power can be immense. Play is the child’s work – their way of making sense of the world around them. In particular, for children who have experienced trauma of any kind, loss, changes, illness or divorce, play is essential. It brings a sense of normality and familiarity, it enables them to work through thoughts and feelings, and it gives them their childhood.
5. Play is key to learning:
As the founder of The Play Well Trust and The Do Try This at Home School, I am a huge advocate of learning through play. Play is effective, it’s automatically differentiated by the participants and, most importantly, it’s fun. Play frees up our subconscious mind, which enables us to think of things that we didn’t even know that we knew!
Lego offers companies Serious Play Training, which encourages employees to look for solutions to problems by building with Lego. This appears to be remarkably effective. In schools too, Lego is used for ‘Lego Therapy’, where children are encouraged to develop both building and social interaction skills by building a specific model as a team. Lego is a very versatile little system!
So, there you have it. Play, a simple concept that can do so much for us, whatever our age.