One of life's simple pleasures -- playtime -- is not only
as good for you and your kids as it feels, but it also seems
to be disappearing from many adults' and even kids' schedules.
And while there is surely something to be said for working
long hours and enrolling your kids in non-stop enrichment
activities, there are increasing arguments that free play
(tag, hide-and-go-seek, playing house, building with blocks),
for kids, and various leisure-time activities for adults,
are just as important.
Many Kids Missing Out on Unstructured Play
When's the last time you found your inner child and
took time to play?
Unstructured play, things like playing with blocks and dolls,
running around outside, building forts and making up imaginative
games, is fast becoming a thing of the past for American children,
according to an American Academy of Pediatrics report.
The beneficial free play is being bumped out in favor of
educational videos, classes and other enrichment activities
-- so much so that it may be hurting children's physical and
The American Academy of Pediatrics is now suggesting that
pediatricians examine children with "stress checks"
to be sure their schedules are not overloaded.
"A lot of pediatricians are seeing stress in children
with this kind of [overloaded] schedule. It's not true for
all kids, but it is a serious problem," says report author
Kenneth Ginsburg, a pediatrician of Children's Hospital of
Free Play Encourages Healthy Development in Kids
Unstructured free play helps kids become creative and
discover their own passions.
The report stresses what commonsense also indicates: that
allowing kids to play freely, along with providing "downtime,"
is necessary for their healthy development. According to the
report, this type of play (dolls, books, blocks, physical
play, etc.) helps children:
Develop problem-solving skills
Relate to others
Discover their own passions
Adjust to school settings
Adults Need Playtime, Too
Adults should take time to play everyday by doing something
that makes them feel good (and doesn't feel like a chore).
Kids are not the only ones who benefit from unstructured
downtime -- time to do whatever your heart desires. Adults
also need to play, for their health, their minds and their
When you take time to do something you love, levels of dopamine
and serotonin rise in your body, which makes you feel calm
and pleasant. Meanwhile, adult playtime gives you a chance
"You feel happier, healthier, and more fulfilled when
you can do things that provide the kind of satisfaction you're
looking for," says Howard E.A. Tinsley, PhD, professor
emeritus of psychology at Southern Illinois University. "Over
the long term, the ability to do these kinds of things leads
to a greater level of physical and mental health, and to a
higher quality of life."
Playtime is also essential to help adults relieve stress,
says Blair Justice, PhD, professor of psychology at the University
of Texas School of Public Health.
"You don't have time to make yourself sick," he
However, when adults become overly stressed and don't take
time for leisure, they do just that. Too much stress leads
to increases in chemicals such as cortisol
and norepinephrine, which can disrupt the immune system and
cause you to feel edgy and hostile. Studies have also found
a link between high levels of these chemicals and heart disease.
Not Sure How to Play?
Kids seem to know inherently just what to do to have fun,
but adults may need a little help. Above all else, make sure
your playtime is enjoyable, and not something that feels like
"one more thing to fit into the day."
Playing should be simple, fun, easy, and something that's
a regular part of your routine. For this reason experts suggest
NOT planning a complicated vacation for your playtime, but
rather focusing on the little things (vacations are healthy,
too, but for most don't happen often enough to rely on for
your sole playtime).
Researchers say that many people enjoy nature, being near
water, pets, poetry and good conversation, but do whatever
"People take drugs like heroin and cocaine to raise
serotonin and dopamine, but the healthy way to do it is to
pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around
something beautiful in nature," says Justice.
Try to fit some type of play into your day, everyday, and
you'll feel the difference. Need a few more ideas? Try:
Calling a friend for a chat
Flipping through a magazine
Putting on some music and dancing
Going for a walk
Drawing or painting a picture, or making something out
Doing something you enjoyed as a kid (carving a pumpkin
for Halloween, for instance)
Playing a board game
Singing a song
Playing with your pets
Writing something (a poem, a note to your spouse, a letter)
Joining an adult sports league
Play "Penguin Dive"
Very Fun Exercises for Your Brain ... With an Amazing Little
Test at the End
Old-Fashioned Play Just What American Kids Need
Power of Play