It’s summer here in the northern climes—and summer means the swimming pool.
Last weekend, I stretched out on a deck chair at the local public pool and spent a few hours in the splash zone. Kids were squealing in delight. Ungainly games of Marco Polo were played with a group of 25 or more. Spontaneous rounds of “keep the beach ball up in the air” formed and faded. Toddlers, in their bright yellow and blue baby floats, grinned, splashed, and waggled their fat little legs.
Play. We all say we love it. But the truth is many of us don’t do it.
Work is getting in the way of our play time. As work hours increase and more people “check in” with work during their days off—or work multiple part-time jobs with no days off—exhaustion levels are up. Americans spend half our “leisure time” collapsed in front of the TV. And, unless we are savvy TV consumers, end up wearier than we started.
The new neuroscience indicates that play is a basic biological process in animals and humans. Along with sex, hunger, and “fight or flight,” play is hardwired in us to keep our neurons adaptable and growing. It’s also the foundation of “civilization”—art, creativity, innovation, literature, music, theater, and complex social relationships.
According to Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, there are seven properties that identify play: It is done for its own sake, voluntary, has an inherent attraction, and involves freedom from time, diminished self-consciousness, improvisational potential, and the desire to keep doing it.
Brown has studied animal play behavior, developed “play histories” for humans, researched how lack of play may contribute to anti-social behavior, and most important, examined how play fuels brain growth and flexibilit across a lifetime.