May 6, 2008

The Power of Play

“We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” -- George Bernard Shaw
According to a study by Sandra Hofferth, from 1997 to 2003, North American children spent 50 percent less time outdoors. And, alarmingly, over the last two decades, more than 30,000 schools in the United States have eliminated recess to make more time for academics.

However, decades of research has shown that play is crucial to physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development at all ages. This is especially true of the purest form of play: the self-motivated, imaginative, independent kind, where people create their own games.

In a recent article, Tufts University psychologist David Elkind explored how we can build a new culture of play. Here are some excerpts:

A large body of research evidence also supports the value and importance of particular types of play. For example, Israeli psychologist Sara Smilansky’s classic studies of sociodramatic play, where two or more children participate in shared make believe, demonstrate the value of this play for academic, social, and emotional learning. "Sociodramatic play activates resources that stimulate social and intellectual growth in the child, which in turn affects the child's success in school," concludes Smilansky in a 1990 study that compared American and Israeli children. "For example, problem solving in most school subjects requires a great deal of make believe, visualizing how the Eskimos live, reading stories, imagining a story and writing it down, solving arithmetic problems, and determining what will come next…

The decline of children's free, self-initiated play is the result of a perfect storm of technological innovation, rapid social change, and economic globalization…

When we adults unite play, love, and work in our lives, we set an example that our children can follow. That just might be the best way to bring play back into the lives of our children—and build a more playful culture…

Read the entire article: Here

As social change workers we often take our work and ourselves too seriously. In our quest to make the world a better place we become caught in the busyness and with our deeply committed passion for changing the world – inadvertently forsaking our own mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health “for the cause.”

It is important to take some time to move beyond our habitual life and do something absolutely outrageous, spontaneous and fun. Play helps us maintain compassion, intelligence - and often rejuvenates our mental, physical and communicative powers. Play also provides individuals with tons of fulfillment and relaxation, getting us through these deeply challenging political times.

Integrating deep play into our lives helps us foster the willingness to participate in the things that matter most – inevitably helping us open up to a richer, more satisfying way of being in the world.
[See also: Harnessing the Power of Play: Stories of Hope in Sub-Saharan Africa]
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