Colleen Hammond | Opinions Editor
In the rat race to pass every class, get a degree and sprint toward a career path, it is all too easy to overlook the fundamentals of education.
As children, the first ways humans learn about their surroundings is through play, but somewhere on the road to adulthood that need for play gets thrown away by most people.
While play is often viewed with a childish connotation, the vital role it plays in shaping mental health and brain development are undeniable. Play and recreation open the human brain to a new world of problem solving opportunities. They are the core factors of learning. As children, many encountered their first and most basic economic, cultural and social lessons from playtime.
In reference to the evolution of play, Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College, says, “Play primarily evolved to teach children all kinds of skills, and its extension into adulthood may have helped to build cooperation and sharing among hunter-gathers beyond the level that would naturally exist in a dominance-seeking species.”
Unfortunately, as the years go by, play takes on less and less of a role in teenage and adult life. For some reason, adults frequently view their learning process as finished and therefore cannot benefit from recreation time.
However, this could not be farther from the truth. Play is essential for health and development at all ages and serves as a primary defense against degenerative brain disorders, but it is not a part of most American’s lives.
With the technological boom, physical activity and non-digital pastimes have taken a drastic dip. Although there is nothing inherently evil about digital games and activities, analog hobbies provide the most brain health benefits. Along with their foundation in sensorimotor skills, many a analog activities encourage, and even require, physical activity, promoting overall health and wellbeing.
Aside from physical health, play and recreation have proven to increase effectiveness in the workplace.
Lynn Barnett, a professor of recreation, sports and tourism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign stated, “At work, play has been found to speed up learning, enhance productivity and increase job satisfaction; and at home, playing together, like going to a movie or a concert, can enhance bonding and communication.”
Her words demonstrate the necessity if integrating adult play into modern society.
As crucial and beneficial as play is to adults, most workplaces and higher education programs neglect the importance of play. American society has chosen to ignore recreation for adults. The most socially acceptable forms of recreation for adults are competitive sporting events, but that is not play.
Play is done for its own sake and enjoyment, not for competition or victory. It has become too easy as a culture to let a competitive edge slip into every aspect of life.
Furthermore, adult play goes beyond the colorful blocks and Fisher Price toys of childhood. It is a collection of hobbies and activities that relieve stress and promote creativity.
Play is different for each person and can be unique as a fingerprint. The most important factor is to find it.
This fundamental health component cannot be ignored anymore. Play is one of the very few ways people can combat America’s sixth leading cause of death: Alzheimer’s.
Play and recreation are not just for children’s development. They must be used as tools for the future that allow adults to maintain their health, prevent stress and open themselves up at a world of creativity.