Good Life

Communities That Care: Play has litany of benefits for children, adults

Playing, working and loving in a balanced and harmonious way is usually easier said than done for most people and families. Time is limited, there are competing demands, and conflicting desires or interests often arise that force one to set priorities and make difficult choices. Role strain can result, leading to less energy and feelings of dissatisfaction. This is unfortunately a common scenario in today’s fast-moving times.

Happily, sometimes loving, playing and working can co-occur in the same place. For example, the sixth annual Play, Culture, and Early Education Mini-Conference together with a new Play Day event are set for April 11 at Mount Nittany Elementary School. Children, families, researchers and professional educators will be together learning and playing, and talking seriously about the importance of play.

Play is important for families, neighborhoods and communities as well as for intergenerational, intercultural, and interclass social relationships.

Playing helps children and adults alike maintain health and fitness. Active play improves physical well-being. Calories are burned, muscles are exercised, and coordination and strength are improved. Games, construction activities and dramatizationsand other forms of social, mental and physical play have notable benefits.

Research supports the notion that playing well and developing well go together. Play can advance social and emotional maturity. Children learn to wait and take turns, to share, and to communicate and cooperate together. Often play requires patience and concentration, planning and persistence. Such play during the early years supports prefrontal cortex development of the executive function or self- regulation (i.e., inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility and attention). This is important for forming and maintaining friendships, behaving and performing well in school, and for composure and confidence.

Many play activities excite imagination and creative processes. Children make or set and solve problems for themselves. Either solo or with others, kids can make things, tinker, strategize, plot adventures, or make up and enact narratives. Being able to think outside the box is enhanced by block and box play, pun intended.

Much play is relevant to self-exploration, expression and realization. Children and adults at play envision new selves, and try new things and identities. Often, moral questions are considered in a nonthreatening manner.

Play is valued as instrumental but also for its own sake because it is fun. Adults and children coming together can enhance the enjoyment. Play affords opportunities for building bridges and constructing platforms, both literally and symbolically, connecting generations, cultures and different backgrounds. Play is a platform and a secular prayer for a stronger community leading to a better tomorrow. The bumper sticker reads: “The family that plays together stays together.”