When did you last play? When did you last paddle in the sea or build a sandcastle?
As we get older, we can easily think of play as a childish thing and assume that adults who still play like children are immature. But if you think that, you’re wrong.
For six years, back in the 1980s, I worked with under 5s, with the pre-school kids. One of my tasks was to encourage toddlers to play. I spent my mornings in sand and water trays, built things from duplo (baby lego) and assisted little people as they painted works of art or played with dough.
Play has lots of benefits for child development – much more than occupying kids so they don’t get bored. The benefits of play are many:
- love of life
- release of energy
- tension reduction
- abstract thinking
- mastering new concepts
- anxiety reduction
- conflict resolution
- self-help skills
- learning to experiment and take risks
But when we stop playing, and start taking ourselves too seriously, we can stifle those aspects of our adult development.
I like to play. Sometimes my friends will ask me sarcastically ‘What are you going to be when you grow up?’
We shouldn’t be immature – as in throwing a tantrum when we don’t get our own way or when someone criticises us. But I believe play continues to be a healthy pastime for adults. Sometimes we only think of sports as valid forms of play for grownups.
Last week we were on holiday. The sun was shining and we went to the beach. When the kids were little, I used to help them build sandcastles and tunnels in the sand. But now they’re grown up and left home, it’s just us two grownups on holiday.
One afternoon I found myself absorbed in trying to divert the water flowing across the beach by building banks with pebbles and sand. I found it very relaxing and therapeutic. Soon an hour had passed and the water curled round my diverted earthworks. I watched as the new direction of water-flow eroded a new channel as the stream flowed out to the sea.
Did I make money with my creation? No. Did it solve a problem in the world? No. Did it achieve anything? Yes.
It left me feeling relaxed and full of new creative ideas. It tuned me into nature and it’s gentle persistence. It rekindled that awe of the wonder of the creation in which we live. In some ways, it was a healing experience.
A little playtime on the beach, listening to the rhythm of the sea, fired up all the things on the list above.
If ever you feel stale, stressed or trapped, get to the coast and play on the beach for an hour or two. I guarantee you’ll feel better for it.
‘I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’