You may have heard the quote “Play is a child’s work.” Since typical synonyms for work are labor, toil, drudgery, exertion and grind – that quote makes play sound like serious business. In reality, play kind of is serious business. Maybe our definition of “work” would change if we added more play. Children learn through play and use it to cope with change and the external world.

Adults can, too.

There are many types of play, and all can be good for children and adults. Play:

  • relieves stress,
  • improves brain function,
  • and provides joy.

Play can be open-ended or guided with specific learning objectives. Games with rules are fun and teach turn-taking, following directions and problem-solving skills. Big body play like running, jumping, climbing and wrestling develop balance, spatial awareness, gross motor skills, social awareness and physical health.

But what about pretend play? When children play they use common objects in new ways. You don’t need to show a baby how to use pots and pans as drums or tell a toddler to pretend a block is a phone. Older children engage in pretend play to try on adult roles, which can help them develop empathy and perspective. In the same way, play triggers creativity, imagination and innovation in adults as well as teamwork and social interaction. Encouraging a playful workplace can help employees think differently and see multiple solutions to problems.

Physical play, exercise and brain games have been shown to reduce the effects of dementia in the elderly. George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”

At Camp Fire, we fully embrace the power of play. A great example of play in our Child Development Center was Mud Day when everyone in the center (including teachers!) got to experience the messy, squishy, mud for a morning of discovery and fun. Our Teens in Action staff include games and play in all of our programming. Our After School team encourages our youth to play and be creative in our tinker and maker spaces. Camp Fire also participates in the International Day of Play with our Cardboard Challenge. The Cardboard Challenge Day of Play is a movement that stokes the imagination and creativity of children young and old. It is also a time to gather families and communities to marvel at how a box can be transformed through the mind of a child.

Do you need time to decompress and just playJoin us for our Cardboard Challenge.

Cathy Halliday is the Vice President for the council’s Youth Development division at Camp Fire First Texas. Her specialties include early childhood education, afterschool program development and accreditation management. Cathy holds a Bachelor of Science from New York Institute of Technology in interdisciplinary studies.