‘We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.’
George Bernard Shaw
We all realise the importance of play when it comes to childhood development. Play helps children develop their language skills, it teaches social interaction, the importance of sharing, of working together, of laughter. Play improves physical fitness and dexterity and fuels the imagination - all skills we need to continue to sharpen and develop throughout our lives. Play is also crucial for relieving stress. So why do we stop playing as we get older?
When was the last time any of us enjoyed a game of ‘It’, Kick the Can, 40:40 In, or just enjoyed the simple pleasure of bouncing on a trampoline? When did we last skin a knee climbing a tree, or overexcitedly clothesline one of our colleagues in a game of British Bulldog? Playing isn’t always easy for grownups.
To be honest, play isn’t all that easy for kids these days. Many of the playground games of our youth are being lost to future generations, squeezed out by overprotective parents or overzealous central government safety rules; Conkers is a dying art, British Bulldog is widely banned in schools and largely consigned to the history books (Because Health & Safety).
Meanwhile, we herd our kids around to something called ‘play dates’ and sit around drinking coffee and making idle chit chat whilst the kids simply get on with allowing their imaginations to run riot. Unburdened imaginations transport children to far off lands where they inhabit whimsical characters, undertake daring escapes or dig for buried treasure.
As adults, has the concept of play become so alien that we have to pay someone to remind us how to have fun? It seems you can now employ something called a “Creative Counsellor” who for the not unreasonable sum of £70 a session, will help you reconnect with your inner child from the comfort of a swish wellness centre in London’s Belgravia. Here, the use of creative play helps adults connect with their subconscious, free emotional blockages, develop confidence, self-worth and achieve personal growth. So, all the things that children learn in nursery really. As adults, do we really need to check into a giant nursery to learn what comes naturally to a five year old? Apparently so, as many experts affirm the transformative power of creative play. And at £70 a session, who can blame them?
Kids are a pretty useful means of helping us reconnect with our inner child. They remind us of the simple joys, innocence and freedom of childhood. Until suddenly, they don’t. One day you’re all bouncing happily together on the trampoline without a care in the world, the next you’re gazing wistfully out of the patio doors at the unloved, rusting heap of metal and polypropylene cluttering up your garden, wishing someone would come out to play with you and wondering whether it would be weird if you went out and bounced alone. (Answer: Yes, but who cares?). Meanwhile, your former bouncing buddies have been replaced a couple of couch potatoes who prefer watching other people bounce up and down on Youtube.
So exactly where and how can we play as we get older? Sure, play just tends to take on a different form, playground activities replaced by more grownup pursuits; running, 5-a-side football, cycling, or gentler pastimes such as quiz nights at the local. And of course, there’s any number of outdoor activities that evoke the simple childish wonders of being active physically and socially; climbing, scrambling, kayaking, or paddle boarding. (If only there was a company where you could do all those things…) All these pursuits help with both physical and mental sharpness, but all of them cost money. Can we truly play anywhere for free anymore?
Where, as adults, can we just let our inner kid run free without being frowned upon, or provoking a sense of panic in the local community? Why not try wild swimming, beach cricket, hide and seek in the woods or in the park, or grab a scooter and scooter to school with the kids? Not recommended if you don’t have any kids, maybe head for work instead. You may even find your local indoor play centre runs adults only nights, where bouncing and boozing can be combined to interesting effect.
Recapturing the lost innocence of childhood currently seems more appealing than ever. And it should be fairly easy, after all, we already have a wellness centre. It’s called the outdoors. I think George Michael said it best when he sang; “Let’s go outside, in the sunshine”. Unless I’ve completely misunderstood any hidden subtext, George was simply extoling the virtues of outdoor play, and indeed practiced what he preached, regularly enjoying his favoured playground of Hampstead Heath.
Our wonderful little corner of the world opens up so many possibilities to let loose and rediscover the joys of play. We could explore the caves and smugglers coves of the Jurassic Coast, or walk out to Old Harry on a low spring tide and hunt for the spot where pirate Harry Paye buried his hoard of gold. We could build a rope swing over chalk streams and cling on for dear life as we hurl ourselves out over the crystal-clear water. We could go rock pooling or paddling, build a sandcastle or dig a hole.
So I guess the answer is yes, we can still play like the big kids we are. We just have to look to the little people for a dash of inspiration. Anyone coming out to play?
See you on the outside.
Written by Ben Lewis