When is the last time you played a game? Perhaps it was a sports game, a board game, or simply a mind game. Whatever your game, I believe the power of play is a true game changer. Play can take a difficult situation and turn it into a memorable learning experience. This is true for 2-year-olds, 32-year-olds or 72-year-olds. No matter your age, play is vital to well-being. A recent travel experience reminded me of this truth.
“Airpwane, Airpwane” squeals filled terminal F at the Chicago O’Hare airport during a longer than anticipated layover. I couldn’t help but smile as I exchange grins with a cheeky toddler staring back at me. I was flying solo that trip, but I usually have my own 2-year-old to keep tabs on so I don’t typically have the bandwidth to observe other families during layovers. That day I was in observation mode and, as usual, I was in awe as I watched moms in action.
A few seats down, I watched as a mom of 3 played a game with her son on his iPad while her other son kept his baby sister occupied with a toy. Another mom was chasing her giggling toddler down the crowded terminal with a newborn strapped snuggly to her chest. What amazed me most was how they seemed to truly enjoy their time in the midst of a long delay by immersing themselves in play. As I reflect on my own unexpected layovers, both traveling with little kids and metaphorically in life, I realize I can take a few plays from these moms. Instead of getting frustrated when things don’t go as planned, I can simply “Play it forward” and share the joy these moms and kids were tapping into so effortlessly.
Countless studies show children learn and retain more if play is involved. The same is true for adults. A recent NBC mental health article titled, “Adults Need Recess Too,” highlights the value of daily play for our mental, emotional and physical well-being. The simple act of play releases endorphins, wards off depression, and increases creativity and problem-solving at work to name a few. Cooperation and collaboration are also common results of play which often requires two or more people to work closely together. Whether they are head to head in a chess game, dueling it out on the tennis court, or creating next quarter’s marketing plan, play has the power to bring us together.
Next time you find your stress levels rising, consider playing a game. Any game will do. A simple observation game is both fun and free. For example, next time you are waiting in a long line, keep an eye out for a mom with little ones and watch how she interacts with them. Chances are good you will get to witness the power of play in action. Don’t be surprised if you feel a smile creep up because when we play, we play it forward one positive interaction at a time. This simple but powerful concept has inspired our “Play it Forward” program at Creative Habitat, a nonprofit coworking space for moms located in the Valley West Mall next to the DSM Children’s Museum. You can learn more about our Play it Forward program here. Now it is your turn! I double-dog-dare you to engage someone in a game today. Play it forward and reap the joy you have sown.