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Prioritize Play

On the eve of autumn, I gaze at the trees anticipating their dramatic and colorful costume changes. When the leaves begin to fall, some adults may see their presence as a chore, but ask a child, and she will only see an opportunity. George Bernard Shaw wrote, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” Fun is a perspective, and play is an activity that we adults should not only schedule, but prioritize, in order to improve our mental, physical, and emotional health. Kids can teach us a lot about joy.

As a child, I used to love getting on my bike to explore the neighborhood. It gave me a great sense of freedom and adventure. I rode down to my local park on the waterfront under the bridge that connected Queens to the Bronx. I leaned the bike against a fence that I climbed over onto the sand where I balanced on top of driftwood as I pretended to be a pirate stranded on an island. Then I made my way over to the swings under the highway to see how high I could go using the power of my own momentum, dropping then soaring, back and forth, up and down, laughing until I leapt off and onto the rubber tarmac. The bike, the swings, and my imagination gave me this extraordinary opportunity to discover. I didn’t realize I was exercising with all that riding and climbing. I just knew I was having fun. I created the fun for myself. And if a rainy day prevented me from going outside, I found myself coloring, playing board games, dancing, or daydreaming inside, all the while focusing on fun and prioritizing play.

Kids use their time for pleasure and discovery. They notice things that adults don’t notice, like music playing in the background, or a grasshopper hopping. They delight in these experiences because they are new and fresh to them. Foods are new to them. People are new to them. Places are new to them. And they are enchanted by everything. They laugh and notice and move constantly. Adults tend to get exhausted by this exuberance, worrying about deadlines being missed, or messes being created. But kids live in the moment. They take risks because they maintain a “what if” mentality, whereas adults practice safety assuming they will harm themselves or get dirty.

When I rode my bike, I never worried about falling off, getting dirty, growing tired, or being late. I just wanted to have fun. Plain and simple. Any activity on any given day was generally ranked by the level of fun one could attain as a child. Whether at school or at a family function, fun was foremost on the mind. As adults, we can learn a lot by this childlike philosophy.

Connect to your inner child and prioritize play. Take risks. Get dirty. Try something new. Create. Explore. Laugh. Skip. Dance. Schedule play dates with friends. And if you are already good at playing, then schedule a fun-tervention for someone you know who could benefit from the power of play.


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