Why You Need to Play, No Matter What Your Age Is

When was the last time you played?

adults playing

Our goal at Science Galaxy is to help people get hands-on with science and technology in a fun, creative, environment, discovering the wonders of STEM through collaboration. Play is essential to our mission because a playful mindset is what leads to discovery.

It’s something that comes natural to all of us when we’re young. To kids, playing is an innate drive. To adults, it’s seen as something we get to do when the work is done, a break from responsibilities and learning.

But did you know that playing is actually how we learn?

In the book Free to Learn, author Peter Gray explains that all animals play, and when they’re playing, they’re teaching themselves how to be that animal. For example, when wolves play-fight, they’re not just goofing around, they’re practicing and sharpening their innate hunting and survival instinct. They’re not “training” intentionally, saying “today, I’m going to be a better wolf.” They’re just doing what comes naturally to them, having fun, and becoming stronger as a result!

kids with ideas

We humans do the same exact thing. Playing is the central means by which we develop physically, mentally, and emotionally. You read that right: play is as crucial to the mind as it is to the body, if not more so. When we play, our brain lights up, creating new neural pathways, and strengthening existing ones. This is how the brain becomes stronger and more capable over time, and who doesn’t want a stronger brain?

The issue is that nearly all of us, at some point in our lives, stop playing. This is troublesome on a number of levels. When you stop playing, you stop developing those physical, emotional, and mental strengths. You become stagnant. Play is not something to “grow out of,” anyone will benefit from more play regardless of age. There’s a saying that goes, “you don’t stop playing because you get older, you get older because you stop playing,” and ain’t it the truth. The only reason we stop playing is because our society forces us to. In between school, work, family, and the rest of the obligations adult life holds, play tends to fall down the hierarchy of importance. When we hear the word ‘play’ we think of kids running around, jumping, climbing, and I think, “I don’t have time for that.”

The good news is that play is not a specific set of actions: it’s a mindset. By approaching activities with a play mindset, you’ll derive the same mental and emotional benefit as you unknowingly did when you were young. So let’s unlearn our adult patterns and indulge in the wonders of play.

How to Play

kids playing with clay

The first step is simple: Try something new. Novelty is enriching for the mind l – that’s what creates those new neural pathways. A new activity performed with a play mindset is going to give you a one-two punch of mental strengthening. Simply, pick a skill you’ve always wanted to learn: A sport, a language, dancing, a martial art, a musical instrument…the list is limitless. Get creative!

The second step is: Activate that “play mindset” and approach your new skill with it. A play mindset is process-oriented, which is the big key. You don’t “play” to master something or check it off a list – you play to keep playing! When you’re doing something just to “master” it, or when you’re being process-oriented, you tend to over analyze and suck the fun out of it. But playing should be fun above all else. To put it simply, don’t worry about the destination, simply enjoy the journey and experiment.

So, seize the opportunity to get out there and play! Your newfound mental strength will make all areas of your life a little easier.

 

Author: Benjamin Nutt