We have all heard the news that play is on the decline in the US. From birth, families are inundated with toys targeting educational and academic achievement. Children are going off to preschool at the tender age of two to three years and many experience a classroom environment that involves passive learning, more direct instruction and less exploration. Many of us share the unreasonable expectation that our children should know how to read by kindergarten, and if not, then they are delayed and not ready for first grade. For elementary age children, time allotted for recess, PE, music, and art has been greatly reduced or completely eliminated in order to accommodate academic goals and mandatory testing.
The consequence of an education system with developmentally inappropriate expectations of child learning is a population of stressed out children who can’t sit in their seats, struggle with sensory issues, don’t know how to make friends, and can’t think outside the box. Evidence for the long-term benefits of free-play, guided-play, and opportunities for physical activity for learning and academic outcomes is growing. Children in developmentally appropriate educational environments show advantages in social skills, emotion regulation, executive function, reading, and language skills and show greater motivation for school than children in developmentally inappropriate environments. Learning through play is active rather than passive and allows children to practice collaboration, perspective taking, and critical thinking skills.
So what I want to know is can play help us grown-ups? Between work, family, responding to emails at all times of the night and weekend, social media and thinking about a future of growing college expenses and healthcare costs, I’m stressed out and so are my friends. Do we, as grown-ups play? What does it look like? And is there any benefit?
Rec-league sports, dancing, karaoke, and murder mystery parties are all grown-up appropriate; pair it with a glass of wine, even better. But when is the last time you played like a kid? There is a little stigma associated with jumping in the ball pit, strapping on the laser tag vest, and pretending to be a fire-breathing dragon. Those with young kids at home have are lucky to have a built-in scapegoat to get their play on. Kids always need a playmate ready to color, pretend, and build with them.
The good thing is that play for grown-ups is becoming more popular and consequently more acceptable. There are now local businesses and products designed just for grown-up play. Brooklyn-based Preschool Mastermind offers preschool-like experiences for stressed-out adults. Grown-ups have fun finger-painting, playing dress-up, and making arts and crafts, they share during circle time and even take naps. Students can also join their skipping club where adults tour a trendy neighborhood to shop, eat, and site-see with skipping as the mode of transportation. Catalyst Ranch in Chicago offers Camp Boundless a day of unplugged day of fun for adults with the purpose of finding your creativity through science, movement, music, imagination, and writing.
Do adults benefit from play?
Psychiatrist Stewart Brown is founder of the National Institute for Play and has reviewed thousands of play “case histories” showing the cognitive and psychological benefits of play in children and adults. To learn more about the benefits of play for adults check out Dr. Browns TED talk titled Play is More than Just Fun.
How do you play? What kind of spaces do you wish existed for adults to get their play on? Break down the stigma and go play!
Places to Play for Grown-ups
- Catalyst Ranch Chicago
- Children’s Museum After Dark
- Adult Swim Indy
- Laser Flash Carmel Adult Programs
- Circle City Athletics Adult Rec