Why it’s Okay to Play

Boys Playing in the water

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” ~John Lubbock, The Use Of Life

Busyness is as American as apple pie. Many people pride themselves on endless “to-dos.” For some, even relaxation is wrought with guilt. Between a hurried lifestyle and increased focus on academic achievement, time for play is shrinking.

How did we end up living like this? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our children? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?
Whatever happened to a world in which kids get muddy, get dirty, get messy, and heavens, get bored? Do we have to love our children so much that we overschedule them, making them stressed and busy — just like us? ~Omid Safi, The Disease of Being Busy

Despite our hurried lifestyle, or perhaps because of it, play is more important than ever. Time to rest, relax, explore, and unplug is critical to healthy living.

Surprisingly, play is not idleness. Some believe downtime is a waste of time, valuing productivity over rest. However, research shows play to be as important as sleep to the “cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children.”

Below are just a few benefits of play.

1) Physical

  • Improve reflexes
  • Develop fine and gross motor skills
  • Increase flexibility
  • Build strong muscles, heart and lung capacity

2) Emotional

  • Build conflict resolution skills
  • Participate in social norms
  • Release emotional stress
  • Practice expressing emotions
  • Discover areas of interest
  • Develop self-advocacy skills

3) Cognitive

  • Increase imagination
  • Improve memory
  • Allow for better focus on academics
  • Develop language skills
  • Promote problem-solving
  • Determine individual pace

In chapter one of his book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, Dr. Stuart Brown affirms the connection between play and success.

I have spent a career studying play, communicating the science of play to the public, and consulting for Fortune 500 companies on how to incorporate it into business. I have used play therapies to help people who are clinically depressed. I frequently talk with groups of parents who inevitably are concerned and conflicted about what constitutes healthy play for their kids. I have gathered and analyzed thousands of case studies that I call play histories. I have found that remembering what play is all about and making it part of our daily lives are probably the most important factors in being a fulfilled human being. The ability to play is critical not only to being happy but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person. ~Dr. Stuart Brown

Sometimes in an effort to ensure our children build a great college resumé, parents focus their children on academics, lessons, sports, and a host of other disciplines. Although these are important, they should not dominate the schedule leaving little time for play.

The next time your child is bored, resist the temptation to entertain or fill the time. It may seem counterintuitive, but children will find a way out of boredom. We did, so can they.

Allowing and encouraging time for play will reap rewards in areas that may not be obvious but are critical nonetheless to happiness and success.

As an adult, how do you cultivate rest and play for yourself? Have you thought about scheduling play on the calendar for you and your children? If so, how do you keep it a priority in increasingly busy times? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.


Originally published at Tammy’s Teachings.