All, Bookworm, Culture/Life

The Healing Power of Play

Playing, imagining, creating. These are an integral and indispensable aspect of every person’s life and development, particularly as children.

As a child of the nineties, I grew up going to Toys R Us, and I feel a bit like I’m mourning the end of an era with the news of the toy stores’ closings around the country. It seems the chain is just the latest to succumb to the swiftly changing retail landscape, thanks in part to the internet.

Technology certainly has its beneficial uses for work and for recreation but, to me, it’s frightening just how pervasive and how profound is its influence when it comes to affecting people’s lives and well-being. Physical problems like back and eye ailments, increased loneliness, social isolation and bullying. All these adverse conditions are attributable at least partially to technology. Not to mention the stress of being accessible 24/7 through smart phones.

Technology has also impacted the realm of children’s play. Computer games, video games, TV shows and movies available anywhere and everywhere due to mobile devices and in-car screens. Yet, more and more, it is being recognized that children’s screen time needs to be monitored and limited.

But this is not a post bashing all technology. I mean I’m typing this commentary on a smart phone for goodness’ sake.

Rather, it’s an invitation to remember and maybe try to re-capture some of your natural childhood wonder and imagination.

The Broadway musical “Finding Neverland,” which tells the story of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, has a whimsical but thought-provoking song that asks:

“Can you remember back when you were young?/When all the simple things you did were so much fun/ You got lost somewhere along the way/You’ve forgotten how to play, every single day.”

It’s refrain declares, “The world is so mysterious and wild/when you start to see it through the eyes of a child.”

PC: https://www.disneyclips.com/imagesnewb/peterpan3.html
PC: disneyclips.com

Back in February, my ballet company hosted a Father/Daughter Valentine’s Day event, which included the dancers teaching a simple dance to the dads and daughters.

In one section of the dance, the parents and children formed a “tunnel” with their hands and all the couples passed under it. You can imagine the giggles and gleeful expressions this elicited when the six-foot-plus dads tried to squeeze through with their tiny pre-school and elementary age daughters.

Yet, as I was watching and directing, it struck me that I was seeing looks of authentic happiness on the faces of these dads. They were genuinely having fun. And what were they doing? Dancing. Playing. Creating a memory that did not involve a cell phone or a screen.

Earlier this year, I was reading the story of a ballet to young students whom I teach, and I noticed their intent attention to the illustrations and the comments and questions they shared. It made me remember just how enjoyable such a simple activity like studying a picture can be.

Lately, I’ve been on a kick of re-discovering and reading classic children’s books. I’m slowly making my way through the Little House series. I re-read Charlie and the Chocolate Factoryand Shilohfor the first time since third grade. I’ve even re-read some of my favorite picture books from childhood.

In a world that is overly-technological, morally confused and is continually feeding us disquieting headlines, I think we could all use a healthy dose of child-like wonder in the little moments and opportunities for fun throughout the day. That doesn’t mean we shirk our responsibilities or ignore realities. But we don’t let our duties or technology or our worries overwhelm our capability for the simple joys that are offered to us every day.

Allowing ourselves to remember and experience those innocent realities of childhood- the fun of laughing, of using our imagination, of playing a game, or maybe even re-reading some of those classic or favorite children’s books- can be an excellent antidote to the ubiquitous stress and hustle-bustle of daily schedules and commitments. I really believe it can be healing, refreshing, and reassuring for one’s mind and spirit.

So un-plug from social media for a day or a week. Don’t allow yourself to check your email for an evening.

Use your leisure time to actually be leisurely-which is different from being idle- and enjoy your life, your friends, your children, your family.

In the words of Walt Disney,

“Laughter is timeless. Imagination has no age. And dreams are forever.”

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