The Value of Play

J.P. Graziano, CPSI

A child's job is to play.  It's that simple.  Play is how we discover the world around us and our interaction with others at play is how we learn to share, take turns, participate and communicate.  Play brings us all together.  It build the mind and body and without play, we are missing out on a great deal.  We have to play.  Even in a war-torn demolished city you will find children playing.  We simply have to play - not just as children but throughout our lives.  You cannot put a price on the value of play.  And it shouldn't cost a dime.  Yes, a lot of us grew up playing out in the woods but for many children, that isn't always an option.  A playground provides a space where  unstructured outdoor play happens - where the mind and body can develop simultaneously.

Research conducted by several Universities and psychologists on the subject of play clearly demonstrates what an essential part of our development is derived from unstructured play.  Play helps shape who we are!  The benefits of play stay with us throughout our lifetime.  In fact, we never stop playing.  Nearly every species of life on the planet seems to have a need to play. It's in our nature to play and it's how we learn to deal with the world around us.  Think about it; on the playground we learn to share, take turns, push our limits and at the same time we are developing our minds, our bodies are getting stronger and healthier.

One of my favorite books on unstructured play is LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS, by Richard Louv. Children today suffer from what Richard Louv calls a, "nature deficit disorder."  I urge every parent, grandparent, aunt and uncle to read Louv's book.  I consider it one of the most important books you'll ever read on child development.

Too much time is spent indoors instead of playing outdoors. Couple that with fast food and you have an unhealthy combination of poor diet and inactivity - the leading cause of obesity. Some kids simply have no place to go and play. The playground plays an integral role in bringing communities together and promoting healthy minds and bodies through something we all can relate to: unstructured play!

Play has no age limit.  Many times I have been asked, "Why don't you design playgrounds for adults?"  That seems a reasonable question and the short answer to that is ... we're working on it.  And trust me, as an expert in the field I can assure you there is research being done right now on designing adult playgrounds.  The fact is, there's not much separating an adult playground from the one our kids are using today.  If you haven't messed around on a playground in a while, what are you waiting for?  Go find a playground and just do it!  At least get on a swing set and get busy.  For some of you who think an adult on a swingset looks weird let me assure you, it's not.  We adults are cutting ourselves out of a lot of healthy activity by thinking we're too old to be up on playgrounds and swings. Don't listen to that voice in your head.  Play on!

Consider a swing set.  Swinging creates the "to-and-fro" motion that many adults find dizzying if they haven't done it in a while.  I know I did - they made me nauseous at first.  But I stuck with it after an associate of mine with over 25 years in the business told me I just had to get past the dizziness.  I set my eye on the horizon and kept swinging.  Soon I began to feel calmer, more relaxed and I found myself pushing harder and going as high as I could.  It felt great.  The benefits were obvious ... my balance and gait improved as did my overall sense of well-being and confidence.  And here's the best part to swinging - it's the original ab-cruncher.  That's right!  If you're looking to condition those abdominal muscles, start swinging and keep at it.  You'll feel better the more you do it. Did I mention it was free?

There is great value in play and as a civilized society, it's our duty to see to it that children everywhere are given the same opportunities for play and development.  It will make for a better world if we all just play along!