The Importance of Play

by Dalva Church

A primary message regarding play in my family was that play was essentially worthless and unacceptable. My parents came from Scottish and German stock, and believed that work was not only good for the soul, but also good for the family. We were expected to clean house, plant, weed, and harvest the garden, do yard work, and do daily chores. Mental work was also considered crucial, so when we were not doing physical work, we were expected to be practicing math, science or writing, or reading improving books.
Play was considered to be lazy. Only work was worthwhile.

I’m sure that many of you can relate to this scenario. Americans have been raised on the concept that working harder is better. Time with parents often does not consist of play. Even five-year-olds have homework these days, and most parents feel pressured to  keep their children on a non-stop merry-go-round of activities and lessons. The only way to get attention is through achievements.

The primacy of intellectualism is now established before we can talk, and children are pressured to read by the age of three. Everything we do is a learning activity, from television  to video games.

Play seems considered to be dangerous, and possibly immoral. Many parents and educators pay attention only when children misbehave, and having fun is seen as misbehavior. Laughing, happy squeals, making noise of any kind—all these set off alarms in many adults.

Even sports are all about the achievements. The trophy, the winning, the possibility of a pro career. Where’s the fun? Where’s he down-time for dreaming?

The problem with all of this is that truly creative thinking, genius, and innovation don’t come out of nose-to-the-grindstone work, and a never-ending stream of activities. To get in touch with yourself, you need time: Quiet, unhurried, nothing to do time.

Innovation takes a playful approach. Freedom to fail, freedom to try anything, freedom to put things together in new ways–all these things come out of play. Imagination can’t run loose in the classroom or the boardroom. Many scientists has their greatest breakthroughs in imaginative space–not the lab.

Making time for play– for you and for the children in your life–is crucial to happiness and success. How will you play today?

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