You are not playing enough. Neither are your children.


By David Joel Miller.

How often have you heard “Stop playing around?”

Is some adult’s voice from your past playing in your head right now as you think about that? Do you ever say that to your child or someone else? Well, knock that off.

The truth is we all need to play more and so do our kids. Now I am not talking about the high-pressure play of organized sports. We are hearing about a lot of kids getting injured playing competitive sports. That is not good for them and despite that delusion of our athletic prowess most of us older folks are not up to that stuff either. I am not thinking of the high dollar sports that are now a business and not fun. What I am suggesting is we all need to do more running and jumping, laughing and having fun.

For a while we had a movement called the “new games” movement which said that games had become too formalized and rule-bound. People watched them instead of playing at them. So they started inventing new games with different rules. The fun was in the trying something different.

Now some of you are saying we need to be serious, kids should learn the academics. No time for play in a well-organized society, except for a few professionals we watch occasionally. That would be all wrong. Kids who play around as children very often do better later in life than their serious compatriots. Let me tell you a story.

There was a school who assigned a teacher to the special education class. That class had such a reputation for not behaving that they were banned from the school-wide assemblies. But this teacher thought it wasn’t fair that her class couldn’t go and all the other classes got to. The other teachers made their class’s line up and march to the multiuse room for the assembly. They were certain that those special education kids could never stay in line long enough to get lined up. And if they were able to line up by some bundle of luck, they were sure to move around and disrupt the assembly. The newly assigned teacher had a different idea and she had a solution.

She did not march her class across the school in single file formation as the other teachers did. She had her class run, as fast as they could, laughing all the way, around the entire school grounds. Only when they had run as far as they could, did she line them up for the assembly. And the shock was, that after a good run those kids were better behaved that the other classes. The teacher was Violet Oaklander, and her book “Windows on Our Children” is a classic on the use of art and play as therapy. But there is more to the story of why play is good. We now know it is not only useful for treating children therapeutically. Play is also necessary for normal development.

Children’s unscripted play is important in developing skill that will increase learning in other areas and will be useful in later life. Play is useful for alerting, improving attention, and for helping people organize their thoughts. It is also calming for most people. Some adults are afraid that play might “wind kids up.” It may improve alertness; I wouldn’t recommend it just before bedtime. But before class, it is likely to improve performances not prevent it.

So if we have over active disruptive students, what do some teachers do? They take away recess and keep the kid in. This is precisely the wrong approach. Please, no emails – you don’t understand – we need to maintain control. FYI, I teach also, I know the problem. But when students get restless then need more breaks and physical activity, not more amphetamine.

What else does play accomplish? Old fashion imaginative play also improves the ability to make use of the senses. It improves balance, fine motor skills needed for writing and the list goes on and on. There are also play activities that improve the auditory and visual senses, just the skills needed for effective learning.

The list of skills that might be improved by active play is too long for me to include here. Even video games when used in moderation, have some benefit in improving hand-eye coordination. Remembering I am not a big fan of robotic video game playing. I have seen too many video game addicts.

But Folks that’s not all!

Play improves the ability to bounce back from life’s stress and trauma. Various play activities have been shown to improve recovery and resilience. There is more to the topic of resilience and the ability to bounce back than just play. One of these days I plan to write more about why some people are able to bounce back from all the bumps in life’s road and others don’t seem to have those skills. I was researching the topic of resiliency and recovery when I came upon all the reports of the benefits of more play.

Hum – just might be a book lurking in that topic. Stay tuned for more on the resiliency angle.

So I hope you have gotten the message. Get out there and play some more. And encourage your kids to play more also. You might even get radical and try playing with your kids.

Is anyone reading this? What do you think on the topic of the need for more play?

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog, there is also a Facebook authors page, in its infancy, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. Thanks to all who read this blog.

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