You’re Never Too Old to Play – How Play Engages our Mind and Body

Wanna play? Play is an integral part of being a kid. It’s arguably the best part of being a kid. And one of the best parts of being a parent is watching your little one get lost in their boundless imaginations, creating new worlds from their surroundings, and turning everyday objects into something completely brand new and different. 

But play is more than just fun; it’s also critical to developing their minds and body. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that “play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them.”

Life skills

The AAP also goes on to say that play teaches kids important life skills like how to “work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills.” When kids are allowed to let their imaginations run wild and direct their own playtime, they’re able to practice decision-making skills and explore different areas that interest them.

Play-based learning

Play-based learning is one of the best ways for children to learn because kids are naturally motivated to play. When kids play games, they can learn things like numbers, letters, strategy, and planning without even realizing they’re learning. Games like Memory, Go Fish, checkers, hide-and-go-seek, and Battleship allow kids to flex their cognitive memory muscles and learn to make and adjust plans on the fly. 

Physical development

Play is also important for their physical development. Allowing kids to explore and play allows them to develop gross and fine-motor skills. Watch your kids play for half an hour, and you’ll see how they can go from playing with something small and being very dextrous and focused to the next minute leaping from the couch and doing a tumbling routine across the floor. Play allows for the development of both of these skills. The best place for this type of play is outdoors; kids need a variety of whole-body sensory experiences to develop a strong body and mind. Think of feeling the grass on their toes or swinging their body from a tree branch and feeling their body hang in space while feeling the rough bark of the branch and the breeze against their skin. Even just walking in nature offers rough, unpredictable terrain, which is excellent for developing coordination and strength. 

Adults need time to play, too

And before you think this is all just kid stuff, play is also wildly beneficial to adults, too, both in how they relate to kids in their care and as individuals. Playing with your kids creates a strong, healthy bond between parents/caregivers and their kids. The AAP says that “parents who have the opportunity to glimpse into their children’s world learn to communicate more effectively with their children and are given another setting to offer gentle, nurturing guidance. Less verbal children may be able to express their views, experiences, and even frustrations through play, allowing their parents an opportunity to gain a fuller understanding of their perspective.”

Why play is important for grown-ups

And play for adults is more important than ever. We don’t want to say “in these unprecedented times,” but…these times aren’t like anything we’ve experienced before, and they’re stressful for many people. Play can help us reconnect to our younger, more carefree selves. Play has been shown to release endorphins, improve brain functionality, and stimulate creativity. Studies show that play improves memory and stimulates the growth of the cerebral cortex, plus it’s been shown to release a substance in our brain that is responsible for creating new brain cells. 

Play ideas for grown-ups

  • Adult coloring books (or just take some of your kids, we don’t judge)
  • Physical play - kickball, dodgeball, capture the flag, outdoor sports
  • Board games
  • Painting, drawing, crafting
  • Object play - Legos, Jenga blocks, Play-Doh, things you can manipulate and build with
  • Make exercise fun - yoga, pilates, Zumba, hiking, rock climbing, aerial yoga