Summer is here! A time for kids to take a break from school and enjoy playing with friends. But why should kids have all the fun? Adults have a lot to gain by engaging in play. For children and adults alike, play creates a sense of community. Engaging in adult play can increase social well-being and intimacy in relationships. Play relieves stress and can have a positive impact on mental health. Adults need time to play just as much as children do. But first, we must define what “real” play is.
What is play?
Dr. Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute of Play explains that play is something done for its own sake. It’s voluntary, pleasurable, offers a sense of engagement, and it takes you out of time. The act itself is more important than the outcome. According to this idea, play is a process. It’s about the enjoyment of the actual experience and is not always goal-oriented. So, how can adults engage in this kind of play?
What is adult play?
In order to engage in play as an adult, you need to find the type of play that truly takes you “out of time” and brings you joy. Here’s an example from my own family. My mother purely enjoys knitting. She loves the thrill of discovery when trying a new pattern, the way the yarn feels in her hands and the peace that comes over her as she creates. Sometimes the pieces she knits aren’t being made for any particular purpose. She has been knitting baby clothes long before my sister or I started a family. When I asked her if this was some kind of thinly veiled hint, she said “No, I just like to make baby clothes because they’re small and easy to make!” Her answer took me by surprise! She was making baby clothes simply because they were fun to make! This is one way that my mother plays – she knits for pure enjoyment without worrying about the outcome.
Of course, there are many ways we can choose to play as adults. Soccer games, painting, crossword puzzles, going to a dog park, coloring, playing a board game – the list is endless. The trick is to find what play is best for you.
Discovering how you like to play
So, how can we find our own unique style of play as adults? Dr. Brown suggests that you start by remembering how you played when you were a child – what excited you? Did you prefer to play with others or alone? By exploring your “play history” you may be able to unlock ways to engage in play as an adult. Try to surround yourself with playful people. Play can be alone but can be enriched when experiencing it with others. Which of your friends and loved ones would be open to exploring different types of play with you?
Finally, one of the best ways to discover how you like to play is to play with little ones. Experiencing the magic of play through children’s eyes can open us up to the endless possibilities of what play looks like and what it can add to our lives. Give it a try! Find forms of play that you enjoy and give yourself permission to make time for it! Kids aren’t the only ones who are allowed to have fun.