Many adults believe play is only for children. We can easily accept that it is probably good for physical and social development, and research tells us that it might even help some children get smarter. But as children develop into young adults, play is one of the “childish things” that needs to be “set aside”. Play continued into adulthood is frequently rationalized as a reward for good behavior or dismissed as a sign of immaturity. When some adults play it is merely an excuse to drink.
Recent studies have suggested that play is not just for children. That it continues to do for us, as we transition through the life span, what it did at the beginning of our lives.
What does play do? From playing comes LEARNING, in all domains of our experience. From physical play (sports) comes both body awareness and skill mastery. From artistic play (dance, music) comes a stretching of the creative spirit. From intellectual play (games) comes problem solving.
Play is also a fundamental to building SOCIAL BONDS. Without play there would be few friendships and even fewer romances. From how we play come the rules for establishing both brief and lasting relationships. Which is why most associations formed in the work place, because they conform to different rules, might be enjoyable but satisfy different needs than play.
At Spruce Mountain Inn, play is taken seriously. That is not an oxymoron. And it does not mean we are constantly having fun. It means that we, as staff, know and value what play has to teach. We know, as you do, the demoralizing effects of long-term mood, anxiety and addiction problems on our residents. We know that their struggles have made them feel left out of the game of life. We know that without pleasure there cannot be self-esteem.
So we build meaningful play into their schedules, into activities and groups. We encourage it during non-scheduled hours. We constantly try to send the message through our interactions that there is a difference between taking oneself too seriously, and not being serious enough about oneself. A better understanding of the difference seems to emerge from paying attention to nature’s way of telling us to lighten up: play.