While the benefits of play and creativity are undisputed for children, society tends to dismiss the benefits play can bring to adults. However, science is showing that the desire and need for play does not dissipate as we grow older. It’s just that somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we stop playing.
Spend time with a child and you will quickly learn that the only limit to their play is imagination. Unhindered by the layers of self-doubt that most of us seem to accumulate as adults, children freely and readily engage in the enjoyment of all forms of creative activity, unconcerned about their ability or whether or not the final result is “good enough”.
Studies continue to show the importance of play in children’s development and its usefulness as an early learning tool. What’s more, the benefits of exposing children to cultural programmes when they are young has been shown to have positive benefits as those children move into adulthood. A report published by the British Cultural Learning Alliance revealed that children who were encouraged to engage in cultural programmes were more likely to be adults who chose higher education, stayed employed and enjoyed overall good health.
Despite the accepted advantages of play and creativity in children, play for adults tends to be dismissed. Somewhere between getting a job, running a house and managing relationships, we have lost the time for play and free thought. “The only kind [of play] that we honour is competitive play,” says Dr Bowen White in his book Why Normal Isn’t Healthy. That does not mean that this innate childhood need for play has gone, though. Rather, it has been just piled over with all the responsibilities that come with being an adult.
All the benefits we gained through play as children – problem-solving, expression of thought and building of relationships – carry through to adulthood. Play has also been shown to reduce stress in adults, with creative activities found to impact the body in a similar way to meditation. These benefits also extend to simply observing creativity, with the American Journal of Public Health finding that experiencing the creativity of others, such as attending a concert or visiting a museum, can also decrease psychological stress.
Engaging in creativity has even been found to increase and renew brain function, prevent Alzheimer’s disease, and improve mood. Play can also help cultivate a healthy social life, as people bond through common experiences and interests.
So, how can we reclaim our play time? The beauty of play is that by its very nature, it does not have to be groundbreaking or elaborate. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play, says play is more an act of freedom. “Play is a state of mind rather than an activity,” he says. “It’s an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time.”
Ultimately, it’s about peeling off some of the layers of adulthood and just enjoying ourselves.