The American Heritage Dictionary says, “Play is to occupy oneself in amusement, sport, or other recreation.”
As our population increases dramatically, wide open spaces shrink and digital screens command our youths’ attention, it becomes evident that our jobs in Parks and Recreation become extremely important if not mandatory.
Play is an integral part of any person’s healthy development. Every age group invests social, physical and emotional value in active play. It is where a toddler gets the nerve to take that first step, a child learns socialization skills that will be used into adulthood and an older person keeps their will to continue a healthy lifestyle.
Our jobs in the fields of Parks and Recreation or Leisure Services help serve the population with the Who, What, Where, How and When of Play. Our centers, parks, playgrounds and recreation facilities offer space for spontaneous and organized play.
The animal in all of us
An article by Stuart L. Brown in December 1994 National Geographic points out that studies of the brain and animal behavior suggest that play is extremely important to life – for us as well as for other animals. Playful characteristics in other earthly inhabitants also seem to have the edge as hunters and in luring and keeping mates. Abundant play in some species is associated with more developed brains. Play helps in the physical and mental development of young animals and is a bonus for animals that continue play into adulthood. Stuart goes on to state, “If young are prevented from playing or maltreated so that their play is abnormal, their development may also be abnormal”.
Studies on individuals involved in violent crimes seem to suggest that their childhoods were void of play, allowed minimal play or were so controlled by parents that play was not an option. Conversely, the most playful of all inhabitants seem to have the more developed brains and enjoy a more healthy and full lifestyle.
When choosing a pet, some want the “Pick of the Litter”, they may be looking for the one that is “high-spirited” (playful). This would be the one that is likely to show more interaction with the pet owner. Likewise when choosing friends, business associates or mates, our tendency is to lean towards people that have engaging characteristics most often learned through play.
Why should we play?
Play develops better coordination, higher brain activity and better muscle tone. Play throughout a persons life generally creates a less stress, a stronger heart and hence, a better chance at living a longer, fuller life.
A survey and report released by the American Toy Institute in August, 1999 found that, “Our society is in such a state of rapid change that our children may be unintended victims of overwhelming stress and rising expectations”. I would like to add that our senior citizens are being left in the dust of revolutionary changes in technology and emphasis on children and academia.
Play encourages a body to utilize more than one sensory to relate to its environment and other beings. Educators have known for ions that utilizing more senses to learn makes the person more able to grasp complicated ideas or abstract thoughts. How can you truly appreciate a description of a rose in a novel, if you have never seen its beauty up close, smelled its sweet fragrance, or felt the piercing hook of its thorns?
Play has positive effects on:
- Brain Development
- Physical Development
- Imagination Abilities
- Cooperation with Others
- Physical Well-being
- Self Esteem
- Problem Solving Abilities
- General Child Development
- Continued Will to Live Well
Play also benefits the acknowledgement of abilities between generations as well as an appreciation for the challenges inherent in all ages.
Our goals should be to instruct caretakers, parents, educators, family members and policymakers to encourage recreation in all aspects of life. We should lead the charge in recommending, influencing and incorporating play into children’s, adults’ and seniors’ lives.