If you raise some rats in a boring, solitary environment and then raise others in a stimulating environment filled with toys, guess what happens? Over time, the rats that are raised and kept in an enriched environment have larger brains than the rats raised in confinement. This was the result of a landmark paper in 1964 by Marion Diamond and her colleagues. Specifically, Marion showed that a stimulating environment increased the depth of a rat’s cerebral cortex (Marion et al. 1964). The paper was one of the first to clearly show the benefits of play (Marion et al. 1964).
We have already established that play is important for kids, but there is evidence that it is also important for adults. Richard Louv wrote a whole book, The Nature Principle , that shows how families and communities can benefit from playing in nature. The book’s references are full of helpful information. There is an entire journal, The American Journal of Play (this is a real thing), that is devoted to the benefits kids and adults receive. If you don’t have enough time to explore these sources, let me just explain a few.
Dr. Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute of Play (also a real thing), defines play as “something done for its own sake.” Brown goes on to explain, “It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”
Did you hear that last sentence? The act of playing is more important than the outcome.
Adult play helps us maintain our social well-being. We, as adults, connect by playing. Play builds community. If play helps to teach kids about cooperation and sharing, it only makes sense that the extension of play into adulthood does the same thing. Besides building friendships, play keeps the mind sharp and can be quite therapeutic. Magnuson and Barnett (2013) even show that adults who play may feel the same stressors as adults who do not play. However, those playful adults react to stressful situations in a much healthier way.
Encourage your kids to play. Play with your kids. Play with other adults.
*If you are a male, F3 is a great way to play every morning. Find a group and connect.