Written By Bill Gosse for the Green Bay Press-Gazette
When I was little, my mother often told us kids to go outside and play. I don’t remember refusing her very often.
I know she wasn’t trying to get rid of us; she was encouraging us to get some exercise and enjoy playing with the neighbor kids. There would be times of disagreement, but we would discuss with our parents how to proceed and we’d be back at it.
In summer, playtime included games of kick the can, all-day pickup baseball games, exploring the nearby woods and even just sitting around to pass the time. In winter, we would dig tunnels in the snow drifts, have snowball fights, and of course, go sledding. Those were the days. We sure had a lot of fun.
That’s what “play” is meant to be—fun! Humans are designed by nature to play and it’s not something that’s supposed to end after childhood. It’s also something that’s not supposed to be taken away from childhood.
Webster’s Dictionary defines “play” as a way to occupy oneself in recreation, amusement or sport. Many kids surely take part in the sport aspect of this, and that’s why sports can be such a great way to play.
With sports leagues starting at earlier ages than when I was young, we have to be careful to keep these activities fun. Practicing several nights a week and requiring third- and fourth-grade girls to shoot 100 shots a day to become a better basketball player doesn’t sound like fun to me — even if they are rewarded with ice cream.
When NFL analyst Cris Collinsworth was interviewed for a “Playbook for Parenting” article, he commented that many adults put pressure on their children by turning sports into work. Collinsworth said he frequently talks with his kids, but tries not to force-feed them.
It seems to me force-feeding is a common mistake. We seem to be compelled to have structure in our kids’ lives — to schedule their fun. In my opinion, that’s about as possible as scheduling quality time with our kids. We don’t know when those special moments will come. Availability and time provide these opportunities. I think sometimes we’re too worried about idle time developing opportunities to get into trouble.
When kids have time for unadulterated play, here are a few of the vital benefits:
- Social Skills: Verbal and body language, safety and danger, freedom and limitations are discovered and practiced repeatedly during play. Without play, people have challenges developing skills of communicating trust and pleasure.
- Personal Strengths: playful activity is calming and relaxes our nervous system so we feel safe.
- Learning: Play arouses curiosity, which leads to discovery and creativity.
- Health: Studies show laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, increases muscle flexion, and boosts the immune function.
- Connection: Sharing joy, laughter and fun with others promotes bonding & strengthens a sense of community. Play-deprived kids are more vulnerable to impulsive behavior, especially when over-stimulated by TV, video games, the emotions of others, or their own easily aroused emotions.
- Perseverance: Perseverance is a trait necessary to healthy adulthood, and it is learned largely through play.
- Joy and Happiness: Play on a daily basis can preserve and nourish our own hearts, and the hearts of our communities.
As adults, play may come in the form of working out, playing cards, going to movies, or watching our kids play. Regardless, playing on a daily basis is one lesson we must remember.
Thanks Mom for shooing us out of the house!