Kids play all the time… and so should everyone else!
This piece is the first of a multi part discussion on ‘Play’ in everyday life. It is an attempt to highlight the importance of play not only for children but for everyone regardless of age, gender, cultural background etc… In today’s fast paced, digital, click frenzied world, the market for ways to unwind, de-stress and become more mindful has increased exponentially over the past 10 years. The market for ways to hire, train and develop employees that are more creative, analytical and have well developed problem solving skills, is also growing exponentially. All this makes for an environment rife with quick fixes that have low potential but high costs.
I am not here to bad mouth any specific type of program, but I am also not selling anything in particular either. I’m just suggesting that there are easier ways to explore the benefits listed above without committing to high financial commitment. Those easier ways revolve around the word ‘play’ and what it means to different people.
Who plays? Who affects ‘play’? Why is is important? Essentially everyone does, but at different degrees and it changes from group to group. The importance lies in what developmental and beneficial affects play has on us as a species, regardless of age.
The first group thought of when we talk about play is of course, children. It’s a staple of their daily activity and evolves as they develop through life. Most research of play’s effects on development focuses on children, and its importance has been noted and taken into consideration by the United Nations Convention of the Rights of a Child. They specifically focused on play with regards to General Comment No. 17 that explores, “the right of the child to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life and the arts.”
Relatively recent research on how malleable our brains are via neuroplasticity highlights the connection of the benefits of playing, to adults. For example, the benefits of coloring in are broken down in this Huffington Post article. It’s important to remember that as adults we can color in too… when was the last time you tried it!? I for one have not done it since I was a kid and I remember enjoying it immensely!
In today’s world, the closest way an adult gets to playing is either a highly structured league of some activity doused in social peer pressures and with a highly competitive slant! Or perhaps with their kids, used as an excuse to play with their toys!
There are many ways to play, depending on your passions and interests. In the video below, I am soft stick sparring with my instructor Guro Conrad Cayman. As you can tell from the atmosphere and joviality there is no competitive edge, very minimal social pressure and low hazard of injury.
This activity led to an environment where we could allow our creativity to flow and test out techniques without fear of serious reprisal or worry of failure. You can see that as the drums pick up so does our energy! We are increasing our creativity and problem solving while utilizing more of our agility, coordination and balance. For us who enjoy the ancient art of Kali (FMA/Filipino Martial Arts) and exploring all that it has to offer, this practice is our meditation, our focus, and our play!
Whether adult or child, having a good teacher is life-changing, without Guro Conrad in the video above, I would not be the martial artist I am today. A teacher inspires, guides, mentors and recognizes the value of their students, and these types of feedback are key when looking at the increased development of cognitive functions.
A good teacher can determine whether a student is successful or not. I don’t mean test scores, GPA or college placement. I am talking about reaching their potential via a safe environment, free from; harm, violence, pollution hazards, social exclusion, prejudice or discrimination. I do not use the term ‘good teacher’ lightly. There is not a good teacher in the past, present or future that has/will not let their student ‘play’ to learn a certain subject or activity through discovery and problem solving.
Peers are also instrumental in our play experience, not just peers of age, culture, national origin etc…but of interest, passion, ability, drive, commitment. We learn not only from teachers, instructors or those who have advanced knowledge. But also from equals as in teammates, classmates, siblings and in those who may not be as knowledgeable as us. The quote below is widely credited to Socrates;
Teaching is the highest form of learning
To teach others and to guide them, shows an in depth understanding greater than just the ability to ‘do’. In playing with a larger diversity of peers we gain an understanding that is far greater. Through playing with people that have different abilities and backgrounds we learn via; achievement, success, teamwork, conflict, problem solving and failure. Several of my peers were in the background of the video above, encouraging, joking, keeping the atmosphere ‘playful.’ Peers are one component of the play environment and establishing peers that help you grow is vital to being able to Thrive in this world.
Often teachers, guardians, and/or parents will not let children figure out conflict on their own. They will not let a situation ‘play’ out without interruption or disruption. This robs them of valuable social development lessons. Allowing someone to be challenged and to discover a solution to the problem on their own is an essential part of learning and development and opportunities happen frequently during play.
With governance of land being a hot topic in many areas today, the commitment to investing in land space that is safe, secure and designed to encourage free play is also key. Space without the constraints or rules, but with the diverse and challenging physical aspects needed to develop mind, body and spirit is essential. Yet, when was the last time we heard anything about it during a campaign speech or debate? The United Nations General Comment #17 highlights this as a major issue;
“Poor recognition of the significance (of play) in the lives of children results in lack of investment in appropriate provisions, weak or non-existent protective legislation and the invisibility of children in national and local-level planning”
This applies to everyone in a community, having space we feel is safe to let go and immerse ourselves in play will have huge impacts on stress levels, happiness, connectivity and social well being. Its time communities stood up for the environment around them and participated in local level planning.
In summary, this short article outlines the key players that are instrumental in developing play as an integral part of everyone’s lives. Stay tuned for more about what play is, what the benefits of play are and how real play enhances; brain function, social development, creativity, imagination, emotional strength, self efficacy, confidence, conflict resolution and problem solving among many other things.
Originally published at medium.com