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Developmental scientists have determined that playing is crucial in child development, giving kids a safe and fun way to learn the physical, intellectual, and social skills that will ultimately turn them into well-rounded adults. They've determined several different types of play and correlated how they might ultimately help in adulthood. For example, fear-based play, like climbing a tree where the danger is falling and getting hurt, is a good way for kids to safely explore fear and manage their emotions. Mock fighting allows kids to develop emotional depth. Even playing imaginary, fantastical scenarios like running through an imaginary forest has benefits: playing through scenarios that evoke fear, anger, and sadness all help kids learn to deal with these emotions.
Click Here to sign up for the TestTube newsletter As children get older, playing allows them to blow off steam and recharge their brains. A 2006 study found that even just 10 to 20 minute recess breaks enabled kids to focus better and ultimately be more successful academically. The benefits of play don't disappear when we reach adulthood. Research shows that unstructured play is a vital break from life's daily stresses. Playing relieves stress, boosts creativity, improves brain function, and can even improve our relationships with peers by building stronger bonds of trust, meaning those horrible icebreakers you play on office retreats are actually kinda useful.
Despite all this, Boston College psychology professor Peter Gray has found that "free play time" is becoming a thing of the past. In an article in The American Journal of Play, he said that children's free play time has been steadily declining since 1955 in large part because adults are exercising increased control over their kids. The effect is that mental health in adolescents and adults could be declining.
What do you guys do to recharge your brains with play? When was the last time you focused on ... not focusing? We'd love to hear the creative ways you blow off steam in the comments down below.
The Decline of Play and the Rise of Psychopathology in Children and Adolescents (Journal of Play)
"Over the past half century, in the United States and other developed nations, children's free play with other children has declined sharply. Over the same period, anxiety, depression, suicide, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism have increased sharply in children, adolescents, and young adults."
The cognitive benefits of play: Effects on the learning brain (Parenting Science)
"Playful behavior appears to have positive effects on the brain and on a child's ability to learn. In fact, play may function as an important, if not crucial, mode for learning."