The importance of play

Published 7:00 am Friday, May 8, 2015

“The opposite of play is not work, it is depression.” Brian Sutton-Smith
Play. I had no idea how important it is. I knew that it was important for a child’s development, but I had no idea how crucial it is to our society as a whole.
Stuart Brown is a doctor who was asked to study Charles Whitman. Charles Whitman is famous for the 1966 Texas Tower shooting. At the University of Texas in Austin, Whitman killed 16 people and wounded 32 others by shooting them from a tower. This incident was the deadliest occurrence on a university campus until 2007.
Stuart Brown was asked to research Whitman including his childhood, his mental condition, his friends and family. How was he capable of such evil? Brown paid careful attention to the neighbor’s concern that Whitman wasn’t allowed “spontaneous play”. His father abused him when Whitman attempted to behave like a child. Whitman’s teachers further explained that he “was too good.” He sat and waited for the teachers to give him any direction.
Brown was curious and continued his research at Huntsville prison. He interviewed 26 murderers and found a lack of rough and tumble play and a lack of empathy throughout their childhood. In his studies, Brown found that play is absolutely critical for children eight months to five years. But it’s also very important to people of all ages. We get mood uplift and connectedness with play at any age. Even in an insane ward, the level of dementia is decreased with play. Hospitals use games to decrease pain in patients.
Stuart Brown went on to create the National Institute for Play. I learned so much from their website www.NIFPLAY.ORG. A prolonged deprivation of play, at any age, can be linked to depression, stress, violence and addiction. Play is a catalyst of learning and relationships at any age. The biology and neuroscience of play reveals it to be a fundamental survival aspect of all social mammals.
As a child, Gillian Lynne could not sit still. After multiple complaints from teachers, her mother took her to a doctor. The doctor told Lynne that her daughter was mentally retarded and needed to see a specialist. The specialist interviewed Gillian and Lynne at great length, the entire time Gillian sat on her hands in fear. After the interview, the specialist asked to speak to Lynne alone, turned on a radio, and left Gillian alone. Gillian danced. The specialist told Mrs. Lynne, “Your daughter is not sick, she’s a dancer.” Gillian was enrolled in dance school and found an environment full of people just like her. She went on to choreograph Cats and Phantom of the Opera. She is a prodigy. Not mentally retarded.
Not only do I want you to encourage your children to play, I want you to play with your children. Imagine following a tough day at work, irate customers, with a game of hide and seek. If you knew you were going home to play catch, wouldn’t it make a difference to your entire day? Get outside. Spring is in the air. Bond with the most precious, beautiful people in your life. The short ones. Your children, your grandchildren, your nieces and nephews, and your neighbors.

By Jennifer Gates

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox