The Power of Play

Children bubble nests, Leanne

Play has a very vital role in the normal development of animals and humans. This lesson was brought home in a myriad of ways in the book, “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul” by Brown, S.L. & Vaughan, C.C., (2010), NY, NY; The Penguin Group. Here are some of the salient points from their book about the importance of play in our lives; it just may make you want to drop the work you’re doing and run outside and play!

Have you ever heard of the term “snarly”? Apparently cats and other social animals can become that way if they miss out on play. Without play, cats lose the ability to sense others’ emotional state and to respond appropriately, thus they become overly aggressive or retreat and not engage in normal social patterns. We have a cat named Angel (she’s not one)  if anyone or any creature comes within a foot of her, she usually lashes out at them. You never see her play and she’s pretty aggressive as a result. If you have a snarly friend, you might invite them out for some serious playtime.

Providing infants and young children the chance to play and enjoy friendships with others helps their whole-brains grow and develop. If they are not engaged in play and participate in solitary activities then neural growth occurs in only one area of the brain. Play also aids in developing new connections between neurons and brain centers that did not exist before. These neural pathways that are lit up during play are essential to continued brain organization.

When we can’t play, over the long term, our mood darkens. We become hopeless and anhedonic or incapable of feeling sustained pleasure. My aunt used to say, “all work, and no play makes (insert name) a dull boy or girl.” It is an old saying, but it does ring true.
Some of the benefits of play include, the capacity to become smarter, to learn more about the world than what genes alone could ever teach, and the ability to adapt to a changing world. We all want these things for our children, our family, and ourselves. Now go find a friend or friends and some children and take some time to have some fun!

Featured Image Source: Leanne Manning

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATION | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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