Play with Purpose

How seriously should we take play? Recent studies show that play, brain breaks, and creating by using one’s imagination are vital for children’s mental and physical health. The American Academy of Pediatrics discusses what may occur in children if they are not encouraged to actively play outdoors in nature or to engage their playful imaginations. Without plenty of playtime, children may experience attention problems and have difficulty developing emotionally or socially. But wait a minute, it turns out that play is beneficial for adults as well. A New York Times article lists the benefits of play in adults as comparable to that of meditation since it aids in allowing our minds to focus and delivers a mood lift. It’s interesting to note that humans and mammals are wired with a biological drive known as Play Circuits. These biological components are located within our brains and are activated by the activities present in play. When stimulated, these circuits send information to the cortex; and with repetition, the signals generate neural pathways by rewiring our brains.

We’ve all seen our pets engage in play. They have it down, no question. They employ it as a means for fitness and learning. Birds such as crows are well known for inventing games to play with found objects. My neighbor’s horse loves to play with a tire, while the fox and her kits made a ‘toy’ of my husband’s work glove that was left out, by biting it and playing a game of tug-of-war! Play comes naturally to mammals. In her book, Deep Play essayist and poet Diane Ackerman talks about play’s effect on mood, and how, with deep play we “become ideal versions of ourselves.”

One form of play that you may have overlooked is singing. Singing as an aid to cognitive health shows up in enhanced verbal fluency. With the attention to memorization and information processing singing as a form of play has myriad benefits. The website healthline.com states that singing is a great method of stress reduction, and it can also help release endorphins, hormones that aid in more positive feelings. Singing can also help improve the function of your lungs since it calls for controlled muscle use. Sorry friends, despite my off-key crooning, I’ll keep belting out those tunes when the mood strikes!

It serves to function that there would be such an entity as the National Institute for Play. This playful organization backs up their findings with science while touting play’s ability to renew us, body and soul. It appears that we all have our unique play personalities, and we just need to experiment a bit to find our joy-spot. For example, some players enjoy the practice of collecting. Maybe you frequent thrift or antique shops; and when you find a piece of pottery or a gemstone to round out your collection you revel in the thrill of the hunt. Possibly your passion is painting and you are a weekend artist who finds joy in creating. The list goes on.

Get those adult coloring books out, polish up on your puns, or dust off your tennis racket because amusement and recreation are all forms of play. However you label it, be it play or joy, using our play nature is important nourishment that brings zest to our bodies and brains. Find your play spot and create your own refuge from day-to-day life. Your sanctuary awaits.

Kathleen Scavone

Kathleen Scavone, MA., is a retired educator who has resided in beautiful Lake County for over 45 years. She freelances fiction, poetry, nature writing, curriculum ideas, and local history. She writes for The Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register, News From Native California, Green Prints, etc. She has published three books, a play and a poetry chapbook. The second edition of her locally set historical novella, People of the Water- a novella of the events leading to the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 is available in local museums and stores, as well as on Amazon.com and IngramSpark in both paperback and e-book formats. She has written Anderson Marsh State Historic Park- A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora and Fauna tour of a California State Park, and Native Americans of Lake County. Kathleen is a photographer and potter. Her other interests include hiking, assisting on archaeology digs, travel, gardening and reading.

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