Here is YOUR chance to GIVE the
gift of PLAY on Giving TuesPLAY!

After Black Friday and Cyber Monday is #GivingTuesday. It is a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, November 27, 2018, the US Play Coalition will be a part of #GivingTuesday, encouraging YOU to support PLAY by donating to our Action and Research Grants for playmakers and researchers whose work has the potential to improve and expand the Play Movement. We call it Giving TuesPLAY! (Get it?!) Big or small, your gift MATTERS!!

Grant funding is a distinctive feature of our annual Play Conference, and we are proud to have awarded $52,000 in funding to date.   Check out the projects our grants have supported over the years – https://usplaycoalition.org/action-research-grants

Our 2018 Giving TuesPLAY goal is to fund at least one Research Grant and one Action Grant for our upcoming
10th Anniversary season.  We are on our way, thanks to a jump start challenge from our amazing steering committee. Now we challenge you! All funds raised on Giving TuesPLAY go to our grant fund – 100% of it!

YOU can help us provide action and research grants in 2019 with your Giving TuesPLAY gift!  Join the global movement and donate on Tuesday, November 27! Big or small, your gift MATTERS!! We can’t wait to share the future of play with you!


Play Pioneers Stuart Brown and Peter Gray to Keynote 10th Anniversary Play Conference

Play pioneers who are among the US Play Coalition “firsts” return to keynote the 10th Anniversary Conference on the Value of Play: PLAY FOR LIFE, March 31-April 3, 2019, in Clemson, SC.

Stuart Brown, MD, our very first keynote speaker (2009) and Peter Gray, PhD, our first ever PLAYtalk presenter (2016) return to our main stage to tackle the theme of “PLAY FOR LIFE,” reflect on the last decade of the play movement, and give insights into the next decade.

“This is truly a presentation by our play heroes!” says US Play Coalition executive director Stephanie Garst.  “It is also another first – the first time they’ve ever spoken TOGETHER!  This is definitely a MUST SEE!”

Stuart Brown, MD, was the very first keynote speaker at the 2009 Summit on the Value of Play (the precursor to the Conference on the Value of Play).  Trained in general and internal medicine, psychiatry and clinical research, Dr. Stuart Brown first recognized the importance of play by discovering its absence in the life stories of murders and felony drunken drivers. His years of clinical practice and review of over 6000 personal play histories affirmed the importance and need for healthy play throughout the human life cycle. His independent scholarship and exploration of the evolution and neuroscience of human and animal play have led to the establishment of the National Institute for Play. The Mission of the National Institute for Play (NIFP) is to bring the unrealized knowledge, practices and benefits of play into public life. Dr. Brown was the instigator and Executive Producer of the three-part PBS series, “The Promise of Play,” and coproduced the BBC-PBS series “Soul of the Universe.” His experience as a medical administrator, producer, and scientific consultant or creator to numerous other productions on Joseph Campbell, Cosmology, Animal Play, and Stress, plus his scientific and popular writings have identified him as the foremost “practical champion of the knowledge of play.” Dr. Brown’s book: Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul has been translated into twelve languages. He co-teaches From Play to Innovation at the Hasso Plattner School of Design at Stanford University, and is the “Key Strategist” for the Nevada Medical Center’s Global Play Science Institute. In addition to regular creative scholarly contributions for the PlayCore company, he enjoys other international corporate and academic consulting on play and its many contributions through their engagement with it, as it enhances overall human well-being. As the information base about play grows, it is evident that play is a public health necessity.

Our species, Brown says, “is built for play, and built by play.”

Peter Gray, PhD, is a research professor of psychology at Boston College, has conducted and published research in neuroendocrinology, developmental psychology, anthropology, and education.  He is author of an internationally acclaimed introductory psychology textbook (Psychology, Worth Publishers, now in its 8thedition), which views all of psychology from an evolutionary perspective.

Gray’s recent research focuses on the roles of play in human evolution and how children educate themselves, through play and exploration, when they are free to do so. He has expanded on these ideas in his recent book, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life (Basic Books, 2013). He also authors a popular blog called Freedom to Learn, for Psychology Today magazine.

Gray is a founding member and president of the nonprofit Alliance for Self-Directed Education (ASDE), which is aimed at creating a world in which children’s natural ways of learning are facilitated rather than suppressed.  He is also a founding board director of the nonprofit Let Grow, the mission of which is to renew children’s freedom to play and explore outdoors, independently of adults.

The Conference on the VALUE of Play
The Play Conference, as it is commonly known, is an annual educational conference presented by the US Play Coalition. The latest research and practices in the field of play are presented at the conference, which brings together play researchers, park and recreation professionals, educators, health scientists, architects, landscape architects, designers, planners, business and community leaders, psychologists, physicians and parents from across the U.S. and beyond. The three day event includes keynote and featured speakers, round tables on critical issues and trends, research symposium for academics, educational sessions for practitioners, action and research grant opportunities, PLAYtalks and PLAYinstitutes, networking, EPIC play breaks and more.

 

  

Announcing 10th Anniversary
Platinum Sponsors

We are thrilled to announce our platinum sponsors for the 10th Anniversary Conference on the Value of Play: PLAY FOR LIFE.  Since our founding in 2009, these four have been at our side.  They are truly leaders in advancing play. Their support comes from their deep belief in our work, our message, and our network.

Please click on their logos to learn more about each.

          

Sarah Lisiecki newest member of the US Play Coalition Steering Committee

We are pleased to announce that Sarah Lisiecki is the newest member of the US Play Coalition Steering Committee.  Our steering committee consists of 25 leaders from across industry, education and health, all committed to its mission to promote the value of play throughout life. Steering committee members contribute their expertise and insights for the current and future work of the US Play Coalition.

“I’m truly excited to help further the US Play Coalition’s mission and engage with so many talented people while helping to bring play to communities around the world!” said Lisiecki.

Sarah is the Marketing Communications Specialist of BCI Burke, a longtime sponsor of the US Play Coalition.

US Play Coaition Excutive Director Stephanie Garst said she is proud to welcome Lisiecki to the committee.

“Sarah has attended the Play Conference for many years and exhibits a personal passion and genuine enthusiasm for play.  She is a great addition to our team!”

 


2018 Grant Winners Announced

Grant funding is a distinctive feature of our annual Play Conference, and we are proud to have awarded $52,000 in funding to date.   At the 2018 Conference on the Value of Play: The Many Faces of Play the new grant winners were announced.  The review process was challenging as we had a record number of outstanding submissions this year.

Each year a $3,000 research seed grant is awarded to a researcher or group of researchers who present empirical research at the play conference to support new, innovative and thoughtful work on the value of play.  This is seed funding in support of longitudinal or future research in diverse topics related to play, and grant recipients’ work reflects great potential for expanding knowledge in the field.

The 2018 Research Seed Grant was awarded to Muntazar Monsur, Ph.D., Nilda Cosco, Ph.D., and Robin Moore from NC State for their project entitled “Transitional play: Exploring the Play Value of Classroom Indoor-Outdoor Relationship of Space.”  The team plans to research transitional play and investigate the play value of transitional semi-covered space in an early childhood classroom to find out if it increases outdoor play time for children and increase children’s diversity in play.

In addition to the research grant, $1000 action grants are awarded to support creative and innovative proposals to engage groups in play or to educate about the value of play. This year we had two action grants, supported by funding from our Giving TuesPLAY initiative as well as from action grant partner the Foundation for Sustainable Parks and Recreation.

There were two projects that each received a 2018 Action Grant:

– “Loose Parts Play Builds Tight Communities” – Patty Stine and Cheryl Simpson, Co-Founders of Pure Play Every Day, Inc.

– “Unequal Playing Field – A Panel Discussion on the Importance of Accessing Equal Play for Girls and Girls of Color” – Starr Jordan & Nichole Myles from Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry


I Used To Think Play Was _________. But Now I Think Play Is _______

After teaching the “Benefits of Play in Child Development” course for the last 10 years, I have read this opening line in students’ reflection paper many times. This year my thoughts about play have also changed. I used to think that play was something I could teach my students but now I think that play is something we need to experience to be understood. The focus of my teaching has always been to help college students understand the benefits of unstructured play by helping me organize a Play Day; a community event where families play with used and recyclable materials. The students create the games or activities for the Play Day but this summer I changed the theme to an Adventure Playground. For those of you reading this, and have just crawled out from under a pre-fab playground set, an Adventure Playground provides children with loose parts and encourages them to engage in freely-chosen, child-directed play.

But…before I could host my first Adventure Playground Play Day, I had to rethink my own thoughts about what an unstructured Play Day would look like. Then I had to convince my students that an adventure playground was the way to go, and finally I had to pull it all together, and get the community to show up.

Thinking Playful Thoughts

Although it was not difficult to image what an adventure playground could look like, kids playing with ‘junk’, it took me some time to accept the idea that an unstructured Play Day could work. At the time I was reading a book about playful intelligence; in fact I had the pleasure of meeting the author at the US Play Coalition Conference in Clemson SC last April. I serendipitously pre-ordered the book by Anthony DeBenedet titled Playful Intelligence: The Power of Living Lightly in a Serious World, and discovered after getting home from the conference, and finding the book on my doorstep, that I had met the author at the conference.  Anthony’s book helped me to look at play from a different perspective, the adult point of view. As a university professor, I teach students about children development from a play perspective. My students will one day work with children as a teacher, counselor, occupational therapist, or child life specialist. I am also the parent of two kiddos who love to pretend that they are puppies. I am so steeped in teaching and advocating for children’s play that I forgot to consider adult play! Some of the key points in Anthony’s book helped me to realize that I needed to change things with my play class. That I can use my sense of wonder to rediscover and embrace my imagination; to think about a Play Day that could be different. I knew that play is for all people; I just had to remember that I also needed play.

I think she might be crazy?!

While the students were curious to learn more about adventure playgrounds, they were not sold on the idea, yet. One student thought I was a bit crazy to bring junk to a nature center and let kids play with boxes, pallets, and tubes. After reading parts of Penny Wilson’s Playwork Primer and talking with Morgan Leichter-Saxby co-founder of Pop-up Adventure Playground, the students were beginning to think of themselves as play workers instead of event planners. The role of the play worker is to provide the loose parts and allow children opportunities for risk and child-directed. However, moving to the play worker mindset takes some practice. The students who worked at daycare centers and summer youth programs, had a “safety first” mentality. Students realized they did not have to rush to help children at the Play Day; that in fact they should think of themselves as a resource and not as a remedy. Students appreciated our conversation with Morgan, and were fascinated at the scenes from the documentary “The Land.” They were completely surprised at the level of trust the play workers had with the children as we watched the kiddos use knives, build fires, and scale trees. One student reflected, “Now I know that by telling a child to be careful in the middle of their play, it restricts their play, and I’m not going to do that.”

If you build an adventure playground, they will come?

When I first started hosting Play Days I would make a flyer, post them around town at different businesses and childcare facilities, and hope for the best. Within the last 5 years, I have noticed that the more social networking sites that I posted my event to, it has increased the attendance at the Play Day. I always contact local media outlets to promote the event, however, even after I tell my students about my efforts, and encourage them to post to their social media pages, they are still unsure if anyone would show up. However, it always works! About 60 people came to the Adventure Playground Play Day. Not only was the kiddy-pool filled with mud a favorite, the children were eager to paint their toes, legs, and faces. The parents appreciated the chance for their children to get messy without having to worry about cleaning up the space, that was our responsibility.

The students were concerned about the mess afterwards, however they noted that it was a mess worth cleaning up. They suggested that for “next time” I should warn students about the mess. Although I do plan to give the future student a heads-up, I also want them to experience the Play Day in their own way. If someone had told me, 15 years ago, after I helped my colleagues Joyce Hemphill and Laura Scheinholtz arrange a Play Day, that play would be the focus of my research, advocacy, and teaching philosophy I would never have believed it. You cannot warn people about some things in life, you just have to let them experience it for themselves.

 

About the Author

Heather Von Bank, PhD, is Chair and Associate Professor of Family Consumer Science at Minnesota State University-Mankato.  She teaches and advises in the Child Development and Family Studies area. Her specialty areas include research on parent–child relations during the stage of adolescence and family life issues. Dr. Von Bank is co-author of the book “The Power of Playful Learning.”


“The Play Lady” Rumbaugh Named 2018 Outstanding Youth Development Practitioner

The U.S. Play Coalition teamed with Clemson University’s Youth Learning Institute (YLI) to present the Youth Development Practitioner Award at the 2018 Conference on the Value of Play. The award recognizes outstanding performance in the creation and implementation of youth development programs or services.

“There are many deserving practitioners across the nation, and our goal is to bring recognition to this field of service,” said Stephen Lance, executive director of the Youth Learning Institute.

The 2018 YLI Youth Development Practitioner Award recipient is Pat Rumbaugh, a play advocate and co-founder of Let’s Play America. She is known as “The Play Lady”, has for more than 10 years, been an advocate, author, and participant in play activities for youth and the young at heart. Pat has made youth development and play her life’s work, from the time she began her career as a physical education teacher to now as she provides multiple avenues for youth to grow in their play lives, but also, hone valuable business skills, learning advocacy and community involvement from one of the best.  She also wrote a children’s book called, “Let’s Play at the Playground,” which encourages children to choose outdoor play and sparks their imagination while looking at the full page photographs.

“It was to was an honor to receive this award,” wrote Pat in a message to Lance.  She continued with “I wanted to let you know I will continue to work hard at providing fun free play events for ALL children.”

Congratulations to our ever-playful, 2018 YLI Outstanding Youth Development Practitioner Award Winner, Pat “The Play Lady” Rumbaugh.

To learn more about the award eligibility criteria and nominate someone for the 2019 YLI Outstanding Youth Development Practitioner Award, click here.


#PlayTakeOver By Brian VanDongen: Summer Camp Gives Kids The Time They Need To Play

Play is crucial in a child’s physical, social, and emotional development.  But most of the year, kids don’t get enough time to play. Summer camp needs to be a time where children can play.

Threats to Play

There are two major threats to play. The first threat is the amount of time children spend being physically active is decreasing. Compared to previous generations, children now spend more time sitting than moving. Schools are adding classroom time at the expense of recess and physical education. There also have been large increases in screen time use in children. A National Institute of Health study 2016 reported that the average child spends approximately five to seven hours per day using a screen. This is nearly – or more than – double the amount of time children used screens according to a 2007 Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation study. An increase in sedentary time is a threat to play because most play requires movement and action.

A second threat to play is the lack opportunities for children to improvise or use their own resources for play. Parental concern for safety has led to an increase in the use of toys and games that have a directive nature because of the parental fear of letting children playing unsupervised. Many toys and games now come with a set of instructions or rules. This hinders creativity and the opportunity for free play. For example, if a child has a doll or action figure from a TV show, that toy has a pre-defined personality, story, and character. However, a generic doll or action figure has none, so the child is able to create his or her own story and character for the doll or action figure.

The Role of Play At Summer Camp

Because of the threats to play in a child’s life, play takes on a role of increased importance at summer camp. Camp allows children the time to play: while many activities at camp are organized and directed by the counselors, ample time for free play should be included in a daily summer camp schedule. Campers can create imaginative scenarios and explore together while the counselors either watch over them or actively engage in the child-driven play. Campers may ask their counselors to play a role in their scenario. Good camp counselors will take on that role and be fun!

Many parents are concerned – and rightfully so – about their child’s education and the lack of formal schooling during the summer months. However, free play is crucial to a child’s development. Higher levels of school adjustment, increased social development, and increased literacy skills are all benefits of free play. If children aren’t getting the amount of play they need during the school year,

While children’s opportunities for play and physical activity being reduced in their “normal” world, there needs to be ample time for play at summer camp so children can experience the benefits of free play.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “it is a happy talent to know how to play.” This talent is crucial for child development, and every child should have the opportunity to acquire the talent to play. There are countless benefits of play; however, many can fall into four main categories: physical, emotional, social, and cognitive.

In today’s increasingly sedentary world, play and physical activity help children become physically fit. Children learn movement control, acquire body-spatial awareness, develop fine and gross motor skills and increase flexibility and balancing skills when they play. In addition, when children are involved in physical activity, they build stronger muscles and improve bone density, improve heart and lung function and prevent obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol. Children who are physically active at a young age and enjoy that physical activity are more likely to become physically active adults.

The physical benefits of play are easily noticeable. However, there are internal benefits of play that are not so easily identified but that are crucial to a child’s development, such as emotional development. Play often times allows children to experiment with physical challenges – such as climbing and hanging; these opportunities encourages them to evaluate and take risks. By taking that risk and overcoming that challenge, children develop a sense of accomplishment, leading to higher self-confidence and self-esteem levels.

A key reason children look forward to play is the opportunity to spend time with their friends and the change to make new friends. These social interactions are important. In group play, children learn social roles and cultural rules and develop appropriate cooperation skills. Group play teaches children about real-life relationships; when children develop and test relationships, they learn self-control and negotiation skills. These skills help children prepare for a lifetime of interacting with others.

Experts agree that play is critical for a child’s brain development. In play, children develop language and reasoning skills. Play encourages independent thinking and problem solving abilities and often can improve a child’s focus. Children develop verbal skills, judgment and reasoning and creativity.

We are the adults we become because of our play experiences as children and the skills we learn when we play.

Good summer camps offer children to opportunity to play. Because at camp, and with play, children grow, explore, learn, and have fun – all without even realizing it.

 

About the Author

Brian VanDongen is a parks and recreation professional in Hillsborough Township (N.J.).  He has extensive experience working in parks and recreation and an educational background in Excercise Science and Physical Education as well as in Sport and Exercise Psychology.  Brian is a play ambassador for the US Play Coalition.  Check out his blog “The First Quarter.”

 

*Photo of children playing on bars courtesy of Brian VanDongen


Benefits of Roughhousing
(Rough and Tumble) Play

“Play is so integral to childhood that a child who does not have the opportunities to play is cut off from a major portion of childhood.” — Musselwhite

In recent years, roughhousing, or rough-and-tumble play has fallen out of favour. Rough-and-tumble play is when children climb over each other, wrestle, roll around and even pretend to fight. Often termed play-fighting it differentiates itself from real fighting, even if it looks aggressive, as there are visible displays of fun, smiling and laughing. I used to play wrestle with my brother all the time in my youth, it was so much fun!

Its reduction over time as a kid’s pastime has been blamed for everything from increasing levels of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) [2] to higher incidents of accidents during school playtime (recess).

This is a trend that by attempting to reduce risk in daily activities outlaws many types of adventurous play; for example, according to Dame Fiona Reynolds, master of Emmanuel College at Cambridge University, children are three times more likely to end up in the hospital now because they have fallen out of bed rather than out of a tree. 

THE RESEARCH
A wave of books and medical research papers are helping to publicize the physical, mental, emotional and social benefits of roughhousing.

One book on this subject is The Art of Roughhousing by Anthony T. DeBenedet, MD and Lawrence Cohen PhD. In it, the authors describe at least six different benefits of rough-and-tumble play for kids. First and most obviously, there is the physical aspect of roughhousing. These days, just about everyone knows that kids should be getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day, although government recommendations tell us it should be far more activity for kids. A little rough-and-tumble play is one easy way to accomplish more movement minutes in our day. What better way to blow off a little extra energy than by chasing someone around the house or having a fake wrestling match in the middle of the living room. Even better, of course, why not take it outdoors?

Try some rough and tumble play…

 

NOT JUST PHYSICAL
The benefits of roughhousing extend well beyond just the physical. It can also lead to heightened social and emotional intelligence too. For one, kids can learn to differentiate between different facial expressions and body language. However, they also learn about taking turns and cooperation. Often, small groups of kids roughhousing together on the playground will divide themselves into teams to accomplish a particular goal, and that’s all about teamwork, leadership and problem-solving. It has also been suggested that play opens emotional pathways for the epigenetic construction of the social brain, [1] indeed a third of 1,200 brain genes evaluated by Falk Center for Molecular Therapeutics at Northwestern University are shown to be significantly modified within an hour of a 30-min play session. [5]

Some researchers have also indicated that rough and tumble play builds moral and ethical character. Work by Stuart Brown demonstrates that kids with few opportunity for play are more likely to become anti-social and exhibit criminal behaviour when older. [4] This is where adults can play a huge role, since they can teach kids about safety, about looking after those who are weaker, and about using one’s strength in ethical ways. From an evolutionary perspective, it appears that roughhousing might have been an early way for members of a particular tribe to build bonds with each other and establish their overall likeability.

Perhaps the real overlooked benefit of rough-and-tumble play, though, concerns the mental and cognitive benefits. Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce, the authors of “Wild Justice”, have suggested that the unpredictable nature of roughhousing increases the number of connections between neurons in the cerebral cortex. This leads to improved cognitive performance, similar to the effects of dancing. Moreover, some neuroscientists have suggested that rough-and-tumble play increases the brain’s level of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This mysterious-sounding chemical is responsible for memory, logic and advanced cognitive skills, so the more, the better.

NOT JUST FOR THE KIDS
Of course, there are obvious benefits for adults who engage in roughhousing with their kids. Primal Play also encourages this in adult-to-adult games of movement too, why should kids have all the fun? Many adults lead mostly sedentary lives (i.e. sitting all day at the office and then all evening on the couch), so roughhousing encourages them to increase their activity level in a way that lets off some steam. Also, all of that physical activity can also help to reduce stress and anxiety. There’s nothing quite like shrieks of laughter from your kids to make other financial or social difficulties melt into the background. Try playing the Primal Play game Shoulder Barge with a friend and have some fun!

“When we roughhouse with our kids, we model for them how someone bigger and stronger holds back. We teach them self-control, fairness, and empathy. We let them win, which gives them confidence and demonstrates that winning isn’t everything. We show them how much can be accomplished by cooperation and how to constructively channel competitive energy so that it doesn’t take over.”
— DeBenedet and Cohen

As long as roughhousing follows basic safety rules and doesn’t take place too close to bedtime (when the body should be winding down), it can have significant benefits for both kids and adults. The good news is that the pendulum might finally be shifting back in favor of roughhousing and rough-and-tumble behavior.

 

About the Author

Darryl Edwards, is a Movement Coach, Natural Lifestyle Educator, nutritionist and creator of the Primal Play Method™. Darryl developed the Primal Play methodology to inspire others to make activity fun while getting healthier, fitter and stronger in the process.

Darryl is the owner of Fitness Explorer Training and author of several books including Paleo Fitness and Paleo from A to Z.  His work has been published in titles such as Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Elle Magazine, Men’s Fitness and featured on the BBC documentaries Eat to Live Forever and Doctor In The House.  His latest book, Animal Moves, is available now!

 

REFERENCES

[1] Panksepp J., “Affective neuroscience: The foundations of human and animal emotions.” New York: Oxford University Press; 1998a.
[2] Panksepp J., “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, psychostimulants and intolerance of childhood playfulness: A tragedy in the making?” Current Directions in Psychological Science. 1998b;7:91–98.
[3] Panksepp J., “The long-term psychobiological consequences of infant emotions: Prescriptions for the twenty-first century.”, Infant Mental Health Journal. 2001;22:132–173.
[4] Brown, S., “Play as an organizing principle: clinical evidence and personal observations. Animal play: Evolutionary, comparative, and ecological perspectives.”, Cambridge University Press; Cambridge: 1998. pp. 242–251
[5] Jaak Panksepp et al., “A novel NMDA receptor glycine-site partial agonist, GLYX-13, has therapeutic potential for the treatment of autism,” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.06.006.


Paleo Promotes Play – “Don’t Ever Stop Playing”

Paleo Magazine, one of our 2018 Conference on the Value of Play sponsors, wants our readers to know that Paleo is more than just a diet!  In fact, they believe there are three equally important components that make up the Paleo lifestyle as shown in this graphic.  Do you see what is on the exercise list?!  PLAY!

Read on to learn what Paleo Magazine says about PLAY!

“When it comes to maintaining health, exercise is optional, but movement is essential.”— Frank Forencich, The Art Is Long

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”— George Bernard Shaw

Many of today’s health problems exist because our daily physical-activity patterns are completely different from those we were designed to perform. Americans spend over 90 percent of their time indoors (this includes enclosed buildings and vehicles). As a result, we are exposed to more pollutants than ever before, and many of us are lacking much-needed vitamin D.

We know it’s vital for our health to spend time outside, but once outdoors it is even more beneficial for us to play—to move. Playing outside and embracing our inner child has been shown to do wonders for our mental, physical, and spiritual health.

Think of playing outside as movement paired with fun. Play is different from exercising or working out, activities where the goal is to achieve specific fitness benchmarks. You can enjoy outdoor play with friends and family, adults and children, and of course pets. Playing includes activities like hide-and-seek, tag, Frisbee, catch, racing, tag, dancing, bicycling, and any type of movement that makes you laugh and feel like a kid again.

The natural environments of our ancestors enabled a variety of outdoor physical activities—our ancestors led a very active lifestyle without the constraints we face today. Thankfully, we can optimize gene expression and establish the health that was enjoyed by hunter-gathers by engaging in daily physical activity.

Physical activity can help you sleep better, feel happier, and reduce stress, among many other benefits. So don’t be ashamed of heading outside to engage in activities you loved as a child with family and friends—the research has your back!

Healing Power

Playing outdoors makes healing even more enjoyable. According to Harvard Health Publications and several studies, being immersed in Mother Nature helps us heal—both physically and emotionally. Research shows that people recovering from spinal surgery experience less pain and stress, and take fewer pain medications, when they spend time outdoors. Play can also:

  • Help clear up acne, psoriasis, eczema, and jaundice.
  • Reduce the need for pain medication in patients who have undergone surgery.
  • Help older adults sleep better and experience less pain and less functional decline with respect to daily activities.
  • Improve mental well-being.

Benefits for Sleep

Research shows that physical activity improves our sleep:

  • 150 minutes of playtime per week (about 20 minutes a day) can improve adults’ sleep performance by 65 percent.
  • Playing outside can help improve the quality of our sleep.
  • Spending time outdoors in natural light shifts the cycle of our sleep hormones, which helps us to go to sleep and wake up earlier, and feel less groggy upon waking up.

Effects on Mood and Self-Esteem

Having had once been children, we know that playing outside is fun. And the evidence has taught us that the combination of social and physical activity can bolster our mental health and sense of self. Spontaneous play, which encourages much-needed face-to-face socialization, provides us with happy moments and wonderful memories.

The positive effects of playing outdoors on mood include:

  • Reduced aggression and violence—physical activity is useful for redirecting and dissipating stress-fueled aggressive energy
  • Playing outdoors allows us to engage in social activities that have been shown to reduce depressive symptoms.
  • Play leads to laughter, which offers its own health benefits—laughter relaxes your muscles, reduces pain and stress, improves circulation, and enhances your immune system.

Effects on Focus and Creativity

  • Walking outside is linked to improved focus and creativity.
  • Playtime allows children and adults to explore new ideas and express their imaginations.
  • ADHD has been referred to by experts as a “nature-deficit disorder,” whose onset might be linked to us spending less time outdoors.
  • Research has shown that children are more focused on their schoolwork after recess.

How to Play

It seems like a simple question: How do we play? But many of us have lost our natural instinct for unstructured outdoor physical activity. Here are some tips and ideas for rekindling your ability to play:

  • Think like a kid. Let your inner child be your guide.
  • Take your children outside and follow them around. Do what they do. Let them inspire you.
  • Climb a tree.
  • Go for a hike, and feel free to venture from the beaten path from time to time.
  • Organize a group sport, like soccer, frisbee golf, or touch football.
  • Play tag.
  • Race, but don’t concern yourself so much with winning.
  • In the winter, go sledding, and when you get to the bottom, walk back up the hill.
  • Play fetch with your pets.
  • Try something new that you’ve always wanted to do.

Grounding

When was the last time you spent a day barefoot at the beach and felt bad about it? Never? There’s a reason: When we walk (and play) outdoors barefoot, walking across grass, mud, or sand, we are taking part in an activity that is referred to as “grounding” or “earthing.”

Earth carries a huge negative charge, which can provide us with an excellent supply of electrons that are antioxidant-rich and have the ability to destroy free radicals (too many free radicals causes oxidative stress in our body and leads to disease). You actually absorb large amounts of negative electrons through the soles of your feet when your bare feet are on the ground—that is, dirt or grass, not concrete or asphalt.

The benefits of grounding include:

  • Rich source of antioxidants
  • Pain relief
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduced stress on your body
  • Helps repair effects of radiation from cell phones, computers, etc.
  • Calms your sympathetic nervous system—supporting heart-rate variability
  • Supporting heart-rate variability in turn supports homeostasis (balance) in your autonomic nervous system

Moving Beyond Play

At some point in your fitness journey you may decide you want to add more complex movements to your daily routine. Play—with its hormonal benefits and emphasis on connecting with nature and other people—will of course continue being an important component for achieving physical and mental well-being. Play after all is the most basic, and only truly, necessary form of regular physical activity for overall wellness.

Lifting weights, sprinting, engaging in high-intensity interval workouts—these are all effective ways to take your physical fitness to the next level. Though for some the jump can seem intimidating. So start slowly. And no matter what other physical exercise you decide to incorporate into your Paleo lifestyle, DON’T EVER STOP PLAYING.

 

Excerpted from Go Paleo by Paleo Magazine