Monday, August 17, 2009

Where the Action Is: On the Site of the "Playful" Life (Part 3: Science Article)

This is part 3 of my posts on play (Part One, Part Two).

Perhaps no other intervention can help an individual realize the importance of play more than becoming a parent or grandparent. Children, unlike most adults, are unabashed about their desire to play and expressing the joy play gives them. We thus have a lot to learn from children. Sadly, as adults we tend to suppress these primal urges and emotions, and often view play as wasteful and unproductive.

The "Life & Career" section of the latest issue of Science has this excellent article that describes the valuable lessons one scientist has learned from her grandaughter. Here is an excerpt:

Among her many talents, my granddaughter Sophie, who has just turned 2*, has a clear vision of what would make her happy, coupled with the persuasive skills and executive function to make it happen. "Slide?" she says, cocking her head to one side, meaning the nearby park in New York City, which has slides, swings, and a sandbox. I'm tired and would really rather not, having planned a quieter evening of baby-sitting her, with books and toys. I try to distract her but to no avail. "Slide," she repeats, forgoing the questioning tone and nodding her head repeatedly, as if to hypnotize me into agreement. To remove all obstacles, she fetches her sand pail, wedges her shovel and ball neatly into it, and repeats, even more assertively: "Slide, Tayta" (i.e., Grandma). "Go to slide." She brings me my shoes and my purse and waits expectantly at the door. Of course, I succumb.

....She pours a bucketful of sand over her feet with glee. "Tayta, take off shoes," she commands, with the repeated nodding. "In for a penny," I think to myself, and off come my shoes. Of course, I'm persuaded to stick them in deeper as Sophie pours her bucketfuls onto them. Amazingly, the sand feels great on my tired feet. I would have never imagined sitting in the middle of New York City, wearing black business pants, with my feet bare, burrowed into the sand. But it makes her happy, I think to myself, with a smile. It makes me happy, I realize! Then I have an odd thought--where is "happy" in my brain?

....On that day in the park, I realized that Sophie knows something essential that we adults tend to forget: Having fun is important! It entails unexpected sensations, novel situations, body contact, and physical challenge (as long as these are not extreme or threatening).